Monday, November 22, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Monday!
Although it’s tough to stay positive if you’re struggling with nature’s wrath right now, from what may be Canada’s biggest natural disaster in BC (where the province has declared a third state of emergency and they’re opening the floodgates in the Fraser Valley) to the torrential rains expected on the east coast this week. UFV cancelled classes last week as floodwaters reached “almost to our campus doors,” and much of the community was forced to leave their homes and livelihoods. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by these disasters – and if you want to give more, the Abbotsford Disaster Relief Fund is taking online donations.
“As we have all through the COVID19 crisis, we have kept our buildings open in case refuge and solace could be found from being inside UFV. Our doors have not closed on our community.” – Joanne MacLean, President, University of the Fraser Valley
Today’s actually very quiet in terms of declared observations. I found just two: “Go for a Ride Day,” and “National Cranberry Relish Day.” Apparently, this is the calm before the storm of US Thanksgiving and Black Friday, at the end of the week. (Though it’s also my mother’s birthday today, so Happy Birthday Mom!)
Somehow pre-storm calm, watershed moments and opening floodgates are appropriate metaphors for this week’s Pandemic Précis, too…
Since my Précis last week (“Winter Turbulence and COVID Blizzards”), much of North America has been holding its breath, watching case counts rise gradually and fearing worse to come…
Fourth Wave Ebbs
Parliament resumes in Ottawa today, with a new vaccine mandate – and it will be interesting to see whether antivax Conservative MPs are more mature than Engineering undergraduates (see below). New COVID19 case counts in Ontario and Quebec are still about 800 per day, but governments aren’t panicking about ICU capacity thanks to significant vaccine uptake. (Still, some hard-hit regions are clamping down with new restrictions this week.) The Yukon is struggling with the worst per-capita infections in Canada, despite having 85% of residents 12+ fully vaxxed, many since February. Waning immunity is a major concern, and a shortage of healthcare workers has prompted a new state of emergency and tighter restrictions. (To paraphrase the PHO, “Yukon was doing so well, people may have felt the worst was over.”) Manitoba reported a fourth-wave high of new cases on Friday, and New Brunswick reported 90 new cases.
The Next Wave?
In other regions of the country, the real worry is what comes next. PHO Bonnie Henry is urging a cautious Christmas in BC. PHO Deena Hinshaw is warning that Alberta could see a fifth wave this winter. The latest models suggest Saskatchewan’s fifth wave could be its worst, thanks to waning immunity and indoor socializing this winter: “Outbreaks have been mainly in the household.” The best-case scenarios for January require no-one to gather more than they have been doing in SK, over the holidays – what a uSask epidemiologist dryly calls “a big assumption.”
Hospitalizations have plateaued across much of Canada, but at a fairly high level, so we’re going to need vigilance, precautions, and booster shots to make it through the winter without our hospitals being overwhelmed.
Boosters for All
Just in time for American Thanksgiving, the FDA authorized booster shots of Pfizer and Moderna for all adults age 18+, a “one size fits all” strategy to reduce confusion after a dozen states already made the move. “A booster isn’t a luxury,” explained Anthony Fauci. “A booster is part of what the original regimen should be.” (Although most Canadian jurisdictions are starting by making boosters available to the elderly at most at-risk, we can probably expect boosters to be recommended for everyone by January.)
“The evidence is just crystal clear now that efficacy wanes for all infections and that boosters can reduce breakthrough cases and vulnerability to long COVID.” – Robert Wachter, Chair, Dept of Medicine, uCalifornia San Francisco
Cases of COVID19 have been rising recently in the majority of US states, and have doubled over the past week in 24 states, including GA, ID, IL, MA, KY, MS, MO, NH and AK. “It appears as though there’s trouble around the corner” in Michigan, too. With many children unvaxxed or partially-vaxxed, and millions of Americans refusing the be vaxxed, the upcoming holidays will pose a real threat. 50 million Americans are gearing up to travel for Thanksgiving celebrations this Thursday (and even more will then pack shopping malls and big box stores Friday for Black Friday). Despite high gas prices, this is traditionally the busiest week of the year for Amtrak, and highways and airports are expected to be a “hot mess.” Mass transportation volumes are expected to rise by 260% over last year. The impact on COVID19 spread should become evident by mid-December…
In the fight against the coronavirus, the real enemy is apparently “us” – or those “others” who refuse to get vaccinated in order to exercise their “freedoms.” Rural Americans are particularly deluded into a “false sense of security,” forgetting masks or distancing despite having the highest infection rates and lowest vaccine uptake in the country. (45% think the pandemic is over and things are “back to normal,” and 68% now socialize indoors maskless.) Despite a culture of obeying the chain of command, some 10,000 US Marines (6%) remain unvaxxed, despite the looming Nov 28 deadline, in what is the worst uptake rate in the military. Thanks to “long COVID,” about 1.6M Americans may have permanently lost their sense of smell. (That’s nothing to sniff at, since the viral attack is neurological more than olfactory, and humans apparently have less and less brain matter to spare.) I’m with the 70% of Canadians who think we should just fire the unvaxxed, if they can’t WFH.
Shots for Tots
There’s a calm in the waiting rooms of Canadian pediatricians, before the storm hits later this week, after Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine for kids aged 5-11 on Friday. (Moderna also submitted its pediatric version of “SpikeVax” last Tuesday, for kids 6-11.) The dosage for kids will be one-third the adult dose, and Pfizer recommends second shots just 3 weeks later – but NACI is recommending an 8-week interval or more, for a stronger and more lasting immune response. (In the clinical trial, no serious side effects were detected, but HC will be monitoring carefully during the larger-scale rollout.) We can expect a deluge of eager parents in the first few weeks, with Christmas holidays coming and plenty of pent-up demand. In the US, 10% of all children got their shots in the first 14 days of eligibility – apparently including some Canadian kids, dragged across the border by impatient parents. 2.9M doses will arrive in Canada this week, and each province will develop its own plans for distribution. Quebec hopes to have a first dose in the arms of all 700,000 eligible children before Christmas. So far, Ontario and Saskatchewan are saying that COVID19 vaccinations will not be mandatory for K-12 attendance, and the federal government says it has no plans to enforce a vax mandate for children. The pediatric booster will, however, be a “booster for mental health.” Globe & Mail | AP | Global | CTV | CBC |
“That will be a very nice Christmas gift if all our kids are vaccinated before Christmas.” –Christian Dubé, Quebec health minister
The biggest “calm before the storm” occurred in the final weeks of 2019, as Chinese officials ignored or suppressed crucial warnings that could have significantly changed the course of the pandemic. A new peer-reviewed study published in Science concludes that the first known case of COVID19 was a female seafood vendor at the Huanan Market in Wuhan, Wei Guixian, whose illness started on Dec 11 2019. (Contradicting last March’s WHO report.) Half of the early symptomatic cases spread from the “dank and poorly ventilated” market, particularly the western side where raccoon-dogs were caged – providing what uArizona virologist Michael Worobey calls “strong evidence” that the pandemic had a live-animal market origin rather than a laboratory one. “In this city of 11 million people, half of the early cases are linked to a place that’s the size of a soccer field.” (On the other hand, some critics still claim that Chinese reports suggest verified cases much earlier, in Nov 2019, and that the Huanan Market was merely the first superspreader event.) Science | CTV | Newsweek | Huffington Post | New York Times | Washington Post
Don’t Call it Delta Plus
The AY.4.2 strain of COVID19, sometimes called “Delta Plus,” has spread to BC, which reported its first 3 confirmed cases last week (all linked to a single family). AY.4.2 has not yet been designated a “variant of concern,” because there is not yet conclusive evidence that it poses a more significant risk than the Delta strain itself. (If or when it does become a VOC, the WHO will give it a proper name; until then, we shouldn’t call it “Delta Plus” because there are several strains being referred to that way, says a Yale epidemiologist.) AY.4.2 seems to be 10-20% more transmissible than Delta itself, but it does not appear to be more virulent or resistant to vaccines. It may, however, be slightly more likely to cause asymptomatic infections, according to preliminary UK data – which might help explain its improved ability to spread. Two other Delta mutations, AY.25 and AY.27, were first detected in BC back in June and are now responsible for two-thirds of locally-transmitted cases. CTV | Yale Medicine | Newsweek
Infections across Africa have been declining since July, although scientists are puzzled as to just why. With less than 6% of people vaccinated, Africa is nonetheless “one of the least affected regions in the world” and many governments and businesses are acting as though the pandemic were already over. The mystery may be partly explained by lower urbanization, a younger population, a tendency to spend more time outdoors, better acceptance of PHO restrictions, and perhaps also by some gaps in COVID19 testing and reporting. (South Africa has been the hardest-hit country, perhaps due to its urbanization and global connections. Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, has started a massive immunization campaign.) Researchers are investigating the possibility, though, that genetic differences or natural immunity to parasitic diseases such as Malaria could also be involved. “Malaria may have a protective effect.” Still, doctors in Zimbabwe urge vigilance and fear the respite is only temporary. “Complacency is what is going to destroy us because we may be caught unaware.” AP
“Complacency is what is going to destroy us because we may be caught unaware.” – Johannes Marisa, president, Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association
In Europe, the pandemic wave is surging to record heights, countries are imposing new restrictions and mandates, protesters are flooding the streets, and police are unleashing water cannons in response…
Bleak Christmas in Europe
Europe continues to be the global epicentre of the COVID19 pandemic as case counts reach all-time highs in many countries, after 20 months of lockdowns and restrictions. Hungary and Poland are reporting the highest daily case counts since April. Russia is continuing to break its own all-time records for COVID19 deaths. In response, governments are using both carrot and stick to raise stubbornly-low vaccination levels. Some countries, such as Slovakia and Greece, have imposed “lockdowns for the unvaccinated.” Christmas markets are being cancelled in Belgium and Austria. France and others have implemented vaccine passports. Austria, which has seen COVID deaths triple in recent weeks, announced Friday that it will be making vaccination mandatory as of Feb 1, and imposed a fourth 10-day national lockdown to start today. (Austria reported 15,809 new infections on Friday alone, a new record.) Germany has declared a nationwide state of emergency as new daily cases surpass 50,000, and new restrictions are being imposed starting Wednesday. As the country’s CDC head puts it: “all of Germany is one big outbreak.”
“In the short term we won’t manage to break the wave with vaccinations and booster shots alone.” – Jens Spahn, German health minister
“It just doesn’t feel right [for] the government to impose measures on those who have done everything they can just to protect those who didn’t.” – Eva Schernhammer, Chair of Epidemiology, Medical University of Vienna
Protesters Flood the Streets
Tens of thousands of antivaxxers and far-right activists gathered to protest restrictions and mandates last week in Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Croatia and the Czech Republic. Dutch policeunleashed water cannons on protesters when “an orgy of violence” erupted in Rotterdam and The Hague.
Hitting the Mosh Pits
The rollout of COVID19 vaccines in Australia was so delayed that the Australian National University has declared “strollout” the word of the year. Prime minister Scott Morrison was slow to secure supply agreements with Pfizer, and insisted vaccination was “not a race.” By July, just 6.7% of Australians were fully-vaxxed. (Thankfully that is now 71%.) Morrison is still being accused of pandering to antivaxxers and sympathizing with protestors, urging governments to now “step back.” (While covidiots target schoolchildren getting their shots, one principal has reportedly threatened to shut down his school rather than mandate vaccinations for teachers.) As of Friday, the Australian state of Victoria lifted most capacity, density, and masking restrictions for the fully-vaxxed (who are now 90% of the eligible population). Sports arenas, restaurants, gyms and even nightclubs are able to fully reopen – except to the unvaxxed. Victorians can once again get back to “bumping and grinding on the dance floor… and jumping into the sweaty mosh pits.” Yet the Northern Territory is bracing for a looming crisis in small Indigenous communities, where outbreaks have already begun. (The government is attempting to contain the spread of COVID19 by shutting down parts of the region.) The Guardian | The Age | News.com.au | Sydney Morning Herald | ABC News
“It’s been really tough getting through uni without being able to let our hair down at all, so it’ll be really great to go out and have some fun on the dance floor.” – Sam McMaster, Australian university student
SATs around the World
South Korea reported a record-high daily jump of 3,292 COVID19 infections last Thursday, just as half a million students were sitting for the “Suneung” college entrance exam at 1,395 sites across the country. Temperature checks at the doors were used to divert those running a fever to separate testing areas, and 173 self-quarantining students took the tests in isolation. The Suneung is an incredibly big deal, often determining careers, social standing and marriage prospects – and the government grounded airplanes to reduce noise, and delayed the start of the business day to clear roads for students heading to the tests. The education ministry plans a full return to classrooms starting this week, although hospitalizations and deaths are rising among older adults with waning immunity. AP
FWIW, turnout for Brazil’s 5.5-hour equivalent of the SAT, the ENEM, was down 44% this year, and the lowest since 2006, at just over 3M. (Oh, and 37 members of the agency behind the exam resigned this week, over attempts by Jair Bolsonaro’s government to eliminate supposed left-wing bias.) CityNews
CdnPSE continues to wrestle more with outrage and backlash than with actual outbreaks of COVID19…
COVID on Campus
Western Drops the Lanyards
It’s been a challenging Fall at Western U. September’s return to campus was marred by several incidents of violence, stunning accusations of mass druggings and sexual assaults, and a student walkout in protest. Two weeks ago, Western announced a “Community Identification System” pilot program, which would see all staff and students wear their ID on branded lanyards while on campus, starting in January. Predictably, the backlash was swift: faculty and student associations protested that they had not been consulted, females objected to displaying their names in public, and anti-vaxxers worried that this was some form of “carding” system. “It ‘others’ people… and creates exclusion.” Western tried to emphasize that the proposed system was not a policy, and that “use of the lanyards is entirely voluntary and will not be enforced.” Several campus groups passed motions to oppose the program. By last week, president Alan Shepard was apologizing to Senate, and UWOFA’s president says “the whole thing has been shelved.” CBC | Global | London Free Press
Hauled Out in Handcuffs
Campus police at Western U have escorted an unvaccinated undergraduate, 2nd-year Engineering student Harry Wade, out of class and off the campus three times, as he has repeatedly refused to comply with the University’s vaccine and masking requirements. (Two videos have gone viral on social media and attracted national headlines, as Wade was led away in handcuffs or dragged out of class by his hands and feet.) After more than a month of warnings, Western finally expelled Wade on Nov 18. Apparently another 27 Western students have been banned from campus, deregistered from classes, and placed on “involuntary leave due to non-compliance” with the vaccine policy. (They received tuition refunds.) The USC says Western students are overwhelmingly in favour of the vaccine mandate. Ironically, Wade was also fired from a summer job for being unvaxxed: he was screening hospital staff for COVID19 symptoms. Toronto Star | Global | London Free Press
Challenging scenarios of enforcing vaccine mandates as students return to campus could play out at more CdnPSEs in the Winter 2022 term. (Is this yet another calm before the storm?)
As COVID19 evolves from a pandemic disease to an endemic one, and vaccination takes hold across all age groups, we stand at a “watershed” in many ways…
Our “Watershed Moment”
Last month, uToronto president Meric Gertler delivered his inaugural address as Universities Canada chair, emphasizing the crucial role higher education needs to play as the world navigates “the beginning of the end” of the pandemic, and the “existential threat” of climate change. Successful campus reopenings this Fall signal to the rest of society that a safe return is possible, thanks to vaccine mandates and careful precautions. Gertler believes that our reliance on social media and virtual communications through the pandemic has contributed to “political polarization, growing tribalism and an erosion of people’s ability and willingness to listen to, disagree with, and learn from one another.” UofT News
“We find ourselves at a watershed moment, as we transition to a changed society and a changed world.” – Meric Gertler, President, University of Toronto
3 Unknowns this Winter
The potential of a fifth wave of COVID19 this winter hinges on the waning immunity conferred by vaccines, the virulence of emerging variants, and society’s collective behaviour in terms of travel, holiday celebrations and socializing. The COVID19 case spikes in Europe, even with well-vaxxed populations, underscores the threat of waning immunity. The real danger of evolving mutations is that, in a well-vaxxed population, “most fitness improvements are going to come from immune escape.” Says one uMichigan epidemiologist, “this winter is the last stand.” The Atlantic
Fear is Out, Hope is In
After 20 months of relentless pandemic uncertainty and anxiety has burned us all out, small wonder that science communication experts say it’s time to ensure public health messaging – which will be trying to encourage us to vaccinate our children and get our booster shots in the months ahead – needs to shift to “be human and empathetic, with a focus on installing hope.” Obviously, messaging (from PHOs or campus leaders) that expresses frustration or directs blame will only generate “fatigue, apathy and resistance.” We all need to hear more about the progress we’re making, and more hope for a future without school closures, quarantines or lockdowns. Globe & Mail
I’ve been hanging onto this CapU spot since early October, but I still think it’s visually striking…
Capilano U released this colourful, visual 1-min spot to emphasize to prospective students the “team of professionals who have your back,” and will support you in your studies. Produced “in collaboration with CapU film students and alumni,” the brilliant colours echo the institution’s brand identity as a series of zoom-in transitions lead us from studying, to lab, gym, hiking and VR studio – and finally a behind-the-scenes complete with clapboard and a busy set. “Where support leads to impact.” YouTube
As always, thanks for reading! (Sorry I didn’t have time to make it shorter today.)
Hope you have a safe week, wherever you are and whatever storms you face!
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