Monday, November 15, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Monday!
It’s also Transgender Awareness Week, which is being marked by many CdnPSEs – and I hope to devote more time to the subject later in the week. And this is also International Education Week, apparently…
But today, it’s Monday, and time for another weekly…
Since last week’s “Pay Now or Pay Later,” here’s how the pandemic has progressed around the world…
The WHO reports that Europe is “back at the epicentre of the pandemic” after COVID19 deaths rose 10% last week. In particular, Eastern Europe is grappling with a resurgence as new daily cases spiked 33% in the Czech Republic, 49% in Austria and 52% in Croatia. Romania’s morgues are overflowing in the country with Europe’s highest death rate: “a village vanishes daily!” Austria has ordered a 10-day nationwide lockdown of all unvaxxed people starting today. This weekend, the Netherlands reimposed partial lockdowns after 3 months of “normalcy,” as case counts hit an all-time high Thursday. (That’s the first in Europe since summer.) France has entered its fifth wave, says the health minister, and boosters are now mandatory to be considered fully vaxxed. Many countries are still wrestling with misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, like Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia – which is reporting ~40,000 new cases and more than 1,000 deaths each day. Germany has set a record case rate too, and despite widespread vaccination, “the pandemic is anything but over” according to the health minister.
China, ground zero for the novel coronavirus and the only country still aiming for “zero tolerance” on infections, is locking down the northeastern port city of Dalian, closing schools and limiting outbound travel due to 52 locally-transmitted cases. Three weeks ago, China placed more than 9,000 tourists in quarantineafter COVID19 cases arose in a city near the Gobi Desert. (Arguably, “COVID zero” strategies cannot possibly succeed in a world where COVID19 is endemic.) Meanwhile, Japan is preparing for another pandemic wave, and “anticipating a worst-case scenario,” by adding 9,000 new hospital beds. And Singapore (with 85% of its population fully vaxxed) announced last week that the government will no longer cover medical bills for patients who are “unvaccinated by choice,” effective Dec 8 – and of anyone who has recently travelled, effective Jan 1. “We have to send this important signal, to urge everyone to get vaccinated if you are eligible.”
COVID Wargames in Israel
Talk about anticipating the worst: Israeli PM Naftali Bennett and his senior aides retreated to a nuclear command bunker on Thursday, in a “wargame” simulation of a fictional vaccine-resistant “Omega strain” of COVID19. The scenario called for a 10-week crisis, beginning over the December holidays, in which the Omega variant rapidly sickened children, closing schools and filling hospitals. The government will share their findings with other world leaders this week, but “the main lesson is: move fast, move hard.”
Some Americans are anticipating their Thanksgiving holiday next week with some trepidation as regional COVID19 case counts spike in more than 20 states. Nationally, new infections are up 4% this month, to ~74,000 per day, but counts are currently worst in the less-vaxxed “Mountain West” (CO, WY, UT, MT). Even states that achieved strong vaccination uptake early, like Vermont, are hitting record levels of infection. (Minnesota’s PHO blames waning immunity for a “COVID blizzard.”) And millions of Americans will be travelling, prompting Democrats to discuss vax mandates or testing requirements for domestic flights, to prevent a “devastating winter surge.”
“There is more than enough human wood for this coronavirus forest fire to burn.” – Michael Osterholm, Director of Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy, uMinnesota
“One too many smart people has told me or said on TV this week that the pandemic is over.” – Andy Slavitt, former White House advisor on COVID
“We need to stop talking as though COVID is over. More than 40% of the country remains unvaccinated. That’s a lot of warm water for hurricane Delta.” – Peter Hotez, Dean of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine
PHO Theresa Tam warns Canadians to expect “a bit of turbulence” as we head into the winter. Western U epidemiologist Saverio Stranges warns that “we are about a month behind what happens in Europe,” so we can also expect to see case counts rise as restrictions have been lifted…
Two sub-lineages of the Delta variant, AY.25 and AY.27, are being monitored carefully in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan (where AY.25 has become dominant) – but they have been detected in every province but PEI, and appear to have a “survival edge” which has yet to be determined. (They appear to be spreading up to 5% faster, although there is no evidence of immune escape yet.) AY.25 accounts for about 31% of cases in Ontario.
Yukon is seeing a surge in COVID19 cases, even among the fully-vaxxed, that has prompted it to declare a state of emergency on Monday and impose indoor mask mandates and limits on gathering sizes until at least Dec 3. Daily cases in Whitehorse have tripled in a week as colder weather drove socializing indoors, and immunity has begun to wane. (Booster shots are available for anyone 50+.) Proof-of-vaccination requirements were fast-tracked in the territory, and began on Saturday.
Alberta could still see a seasonal resurgence of COVID19 this winter, particularly among young people, leading infectious disease experts to urge caution about indoor gatherings. (The abrupt end to most testing and contact tracing in AB on Aug 1 means that case data is unreliable for modeling purposes.)
Northwest Territories has imposed a 10-day “containment order” on Tuktoyaktuk, a hamlet of 1,000 people that has 16 cases of COVID19 and reports there is now community transmission.
Saskatchewan is in for a “long plateau” and months of healthcare “pain” after its 4th wave, and could even spark a 5th wave if restrictions are lifted too quickly – “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” as one uSaskatchewan expert puts it. Although premier Scott Moe says SK’s trajectory is “very, very positive,” the province has a stubbornly low vaccination uptake rate, and impacts of the 4th wave will continue to hit hospital admissions for weeks to come. (As one columnist observes, Moe’s government ignored numerous warnings all summer, and are clearly continuing to ignore expert guidance.)
Manitoba ICU occupancy rose 25% last week, and could soon match the peak last spring, posing a serious risk to the healthcare system. On Friday, the chief PHO announced new restrictions, including a vaccine requirement for teens in indoor sports or overnight camps, effective Dec 5. Religious gatherings in the hard-hit south of the province will be capped at 25 people, or one-quarter of capacity. (Proof of vaccination is already required in many venues.)
Ontario loosened up restrictions, but now has had to pause a month on its planned next step in reopening “out of an abundance of caution,” as the province reported its highest case count in over a month. (42% of Ontarians admitted to hospital with COVID19 on Friday were in fact fully vaxxed.) The spike in Sudbury prompted the region to reimpose capacity limits. Modelling shows that ICU admissions are likely to increaseacross Ontario by year-end (following the rise in case counts).
“Honestly, I do not see us stepping backwards. If we have to, we’ll pause, but we won’t take a step backwards.” – Kieran Moore, Ontario CMOH
New Brunswick is seeing “concerning” increases in COVID19 case counts in the Moncton region, despite circuit breaker lockdowns since Oct 8. “The circuit breaker measures work, but only if everyone follows them.” NB has now completed its rollout of booster doses of COVID19 vaccine to nursing home residents.
Nova Scotia is also urging residents to follow the rules, stay home when sick, avoid non-essential activities, and respect proof-of-vaccine policies. Community spread was occurring last week in several regions, and a faith-based gathering had sparked ongoing spread in the western and northern zones.
Cases on Campus
I’m certainly not catching every announcement in CdnPSE, but since last week I noticed a couple: Cambrian College reported 2 cases last week, McMaster one case yesterday, and CBC reported an “outbreak” of 2 cases at Wilfrid Laurier U.
Granted, it’s hard to talk about “progress” when vaccine uptake is just inching along in Canada, and so many outspoken antivaxxers are trying to take us back to the dark ages…
Half the World
After 11 months of vaccination efforts, Oxford researchers say that more than 50% of the global population has now received at least one dose of COVID19 vaccine, as of Friday. 7.28B doses have been administered to 4.02B people – although just 3.13B (or 39.7% of the world) are fully-vaxxed. The doses haven’t been distributed in anything approaching an equitable way: just 4.1% of people in low-income countries have received even a single dose. (Here in Canada, we’re still at 74.9% of the population fully vaxxed.)
A Boost for Boosters
Health Canada has recently approved both Pfizer and Moderna booster shots for adults, but NACI is recommending boosters only for at-risk individuals or those who got the single-dose J&J vaccine. Manitobaannounced last Wednesday that all adults 18+ are now eligible for a booster shot, 6 months after their 2nd dose. Quebec announced it would expand eligibility for boosters to people aged 70+ “this month.” Canada may recommend boosters for all adults “at some point next year,” but only after a cost-benefit analysis. One Queen’s U infectious disease prof believes booster shots are almost inevitable, likely 6-9 months after the second dose.
All I want for Christmas…
Many Americans are hoping their kids will be fully vaccinated for Christmas, since the FDA approved shots for kids aged 5-11 on Nov 2. Some 900,000 US kids were estimated to be vaccinated last week, and will be eligible for their 2nd doses just 3 weeks later. Even “wait-and-see” parents will have pretty compelling data on any potential side effects from a real-world sample by February. (Which is a good thing, because they are deluding themselves if they think children are safe from the virus: out of 2M pediatric cases in the past year, 66 American children aged 5-11 have died of COVID19, thousands have been admitted to hospital, and many are suffering symptoms of “long COVID.”) Health Canada will reportedly reach its decision on pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11 within “one to two weeks.”
Nightmare Before Christmas
As an aside, it’s a good thing our kids can get vaccinated for Christmas, because just about everything else will be in short supply. Microchip shortages have impacted the release and availability of automobiles, video game hardware, smartphones and laptops for more than a year, and are expected to last well into 2022. There’s a Christmas tree shortage in Canada, thanks to extreme frost, wildfires, and rising consumer demand. Heck, even carrots for Santa’s reindeer may be a challenge, as labour shortages, port congestion, and refrigerated shipping container shortages are driving panic buying of produce, reducing shelf life of perishables, and creating substantial increases in grocery costs.
Big Bird Ruffles Feathers
Last week, Sesame Street’s Big Bird tweeted (naturally) that he got his shot – ruffling the feathers of some loudmouthed Republicans, who criticized him for “brainwashing children” with “government propaganda.” Tennessee fired its vaccination director after politicians objected to a “reprehensible” ad campaign promoting shots to teens.
It remains incomprehensible that there are still medical professionals speaking out against science and promoting misinformation. (We’ve seen antivax doctors in Alberta and in Ontario, and nurses protesting vax mandates.) This week, an absurd Russian video purports to show how an ancient Chinese “cupping” techniquecan “remove” the vaccine. Christopher Foley, a Minnesota physician who opposed COVID vaccines as a “human experiment” and claimed face masks were “downright dangerous,” passed away from an “unexpected illness” that was eventually confirmed by his family to have been COVID19. Even more concerning are reports of death threats against pro-vax doctors across Canada, and threats against medics in Australia from families that want unproven treatments, or insist the disease is a hospital conspiracy. (“It has brought out an ugly side that we’ve never seen before.”) And while bioethicists say it sets a “terrible precedent” for physicians to turn away unvaccinated patients, I think I’m with Singapore.
“I’m literally afraid now to walk outside of my office, even in broad daylight, because somebody has said they’re going to kill me.” – Nili Kaplan-Myrth, Ottawa family physician
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve had to become accustomed to plenty of uncertainty and often contradictory information, even about those who embrace misinformation. A survey of 6,000 US adults, conducted in April but published in the journal Science last week, found that 21% are still unvaccinated, and almost half of the holdouts say that nothing will change their minds. Yet Monmouth U reports that the proportion of those holdouts (those who say they would “likely never get” vaccinated against COVID19) has declined from 24% in January, to 17% in July, and to just 13% this month. Another poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the percentage of Americans who say they will “definitely not” get vaxxed has been steady at about 15% since Dec 2020. Survey results can be distorted by response bias and social desirability effects, but it appears that white Republicans are most likely to claim opposition to vaccination, while secretly getting the shot anyway. Washington Post
uSask Evicts Student
It’s probably not the only case in CdnPSE, but it made national news last week: a Chinese third-year geological engineering student at uSaskatchewan, Jimmy Ding, says he has been evicted from campus residence because his “religion script” doesn’t allow him to be vaccinated. (Ding refuses to disclose his religion.) Living space in the dorm, St Andrew’s College, is communal, with shared kitchen and bathrooms, and “because of the building’s age, it has no ventilation system.” The SAC principal emphasizes that they would offer religious accommodation if the building had the physical capacity to do so. Instead, they are working with the student to find alternative accommodation, on or off campus. CTV
Just in time for today’s recap of vax and antivax news, an appropriate laugh to start your week…
“My Own Research” U
CBC’s 22 Minutes invites contrarians skeptical of “government” and the “scientific community” to enroll in MOR University, where “we’ll show you both sides of the vaccine debate.” Elective courses include “Bitcoin,” “Is Wrestling Real?”, “Flat Earth Geography,” and “How JFK Jr Faked his own Death.” Plus, explains this satirical ad, students gain access to valuable resources like the National Post comment section, and “your Uncle Gord’s Twitter.” And of course, “no proof of vaccination required. Duh!” YouTube
As always, thanks for reading – and here’s to a great week!
Stay safe and be well,
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