Monday, December 6, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and welcome to December!
Although I’m planning to publish the Insider only intermittently this month, I do want to keep you informed as the Omicron variant threatens to change the course of the pandemic in the next few weeks. Today, I’ve got my weekly Pandemic Précis for you, and tomorrow I’ll go deeper into implications of the Omicron variant specifically.
But today, of course, pretty much everyone in CdnPSE is marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, to reflect on the 1989 Montréal Massacre. It’s also Day 12 of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (see my Nov 26 issue, “#16Days and the Shadow Pandemic”).
32 years ago, a disturbed young man who had tried unsuccessfully to enrol in uMontréal’s École Polytechnique perpetrated one of the most heinous misogynist hate crimes in Canadian history. Today, vigils and ceremonies will be held across the country in memory of the 14 female engineering students who lost their lives, particularly on CdnPSE campuses with Engineering schools…
uAlberta grad Willow Dew has been awarded Polytechnique Montréal’s $30,000 “Order of the White Rose” bursary, for exemplary women shaping the future. Dew is pursuing a joint Master’s in biological and chemical engineering from 3 European universities. Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the Montréal Massacre, emphasized the importance of solidarity in her words at the award ceremony: “Alone we are small, together we are strong; Willow, we will be your forest.” CBC | CTV | Edmonton Journal
“We were not alone that night; We were together, we held hands. These hands are now extended to the women who shape the world of tomorrow… Alone we are small, together we are strong; Willow, we will be your forest.” – Nathalie Provost, survivor of the Montréal Massacre
BCIT will lower flags across its campuses to half-staff today, and the Student Association will host an in memoriam table. BCIT Commons
Bow Valley College is holding a memorial event today, inviting community members to gather, make a candle, and join in the discussion to help end GBV. YouTube
Brescia UC, Canada’s only women’s university, will host a virtual service on Facebook Live this afternoon. Brescia
UBC Okanagan will lower its flags today, and the School of Engineering will host a “walk-through memorial for the 14 Not Forgotten.” UBCO
Laurier’s Instagram account will be taken over this afternoon by the Gendered and Sexual Violence Prevention and Support team, to discuss activism and how to support survivors. WLU
uManitoba Engineering will hold a virtual memorial service at 10am. UM Today
MSVU’s Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender & Social Justice will hold a virtual remembrance ceremony at noon. MSVU
UNB will hold a candle-lighting ceremony this afternoon with poetry readings by Engineering students, and a vigil tonight on the waterfront. UNB
Okanagan College will hold in-person outdoor candlelight vigils this evening at its Vernon and Salmon Arm campuses. (A virtual presentation is also available online.) Education News Canada
Ontario Tech Engineering & Applied Science will hold a livestreamed virtual memorial today, and is hosting a Padlet message board for personal reflections and messages of hope. OnTech
Queen’s U Engineering Society will host a ceremony this afternoon, livestreamed for those not on campus. (Queen’s installed a permanent memorial last year designed by civil engineering student Haley Adams.) Today, residents of Kingston are also being encouraged to hang bedsheets outdoors with positive messages about ending GBV, “as a positive twist on the misogynistic signs… during Homecoming weekend.” Queen’s Gazette | Queen’s Gazette | The Kingstonist
VIU will shine orange lights in the quad and hold a vigil. VIU News
uWindsor will hold a vigil at the campus Memorial of Hope today, hosted by the Womxn’s Centre, Women in Engineering, the Bystander Initiative, and the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention, Resistance and Support. uWindsor Daily News
York will hold a virtual Memorial Ceremony today, livestreamed on YouTube. “It is our hope that the events we have planned will not only honour those who we have lost, but help enable our community to take action and support those who require our help today.” York | YouTube
Since last week’s “Pandemic Punch in the Gut,” in which I outlined the emergence of the Omicron variant, I’m afraid the outlook for pandemic recovery by January has been darkening a bit…
South Africa’s 4th Wave
Right after last week’s précis, daily COVID19 cases in South Africa tripled in just 3 days, reaching 16,000 on Friday. Since early November, test positivity has also skyrocketed, from 1% to 22.4%. About 70% of new cases are in the Gauteng province surrounding Johannesburg, where the Omicron outbreak is likely driving infections. (It is 74% of sequenced samples in the country.) Delta drove South Africa’s 3rd wave of the pandemic, which peaked in July. It appears that the 4th wave has already begun, and one virologist warns new case counts could hit 40,000 a day. With just 36% vaxxed, the country is considering making COVID19 vaccination mandatory. Washington Post | AP
Naturally, cases of Omicron were quickly uncovered last week in more than two dozen countries worldwide. (Al-Jazeera is maintaining a simple country-by-country map, above.) Last Tuesday, authorities in the Netherlands reported that samples taken Nov 19 showed the Omicron variant was already in that country, well before South Africa announced the discovery on Nov 24. (This just underscores the fact that “travel apartheid” was imposed far too late to be effective.) China is concerned about Omicron’s impact on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, but still expects to hold them in February, without foreign spectators. (Lack of snow may be the bigger hurdle.) China has seen rising case counts again in recent days.
Getting Tough in Europe
As Delta ravages Europe and Omicron looms, governments are implementing unpopular “get tough” policiesthat “will cost votes but save lives.” In some regions of Russia, vaccines are mandatory for those aged 60+. In Greece, unvaxxed pensioners could be fined a quarter of their pension. Slovakia is offering them a $600 bonus to get vaxxed. Britain has made masks mandatory in many venues again. The Netherlands has imposed a lockdown, despite high vaccine uptake. Germany is imposing new restrictions on the unvaxxed and, like Austria, is considering making COVID19 vaccination mandatory for all residents. (57% of the population is in favour of the idea.) European Union president Ursula von der Leyen suggested last week that it was time to “potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the 27 EU countries.
Omicron Hits the US
The pandemic continues to average 100,000 new cases daily in the US, shortly after millions travelled for Thanksgiving. 99.9% of cases are still driven by the Delta variant, but cases of Omicron have been reported in at least 16 states since the middle of last week, and New York has been hit particularly hard, hitting a 7-month high. Hospitals across NY state are already straining under staff shortages and a surge of Delta cases, which have doubled in the past month. The National Guard is already assisting on hospital front lines. One fully-vaxxed Minnesota man tested positive for Omicron after attending a 3-day anime convention – leading authorities to hunt down 53,000 other fans for testing. (He has already recovered.) Convention organizers are concerned about the implications for in-person events, which were only just resuming. NYC mayor Bill de Blasio says “we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city.” CTV | AP | Newsweek | Global | Futurism | The Verge | Gizmodo
“It is conceivable that… the vaccines we have may well be able to contain this. Then this won’t be as serious as some people are surmising it might be.” – Anthony Fauci, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Potential Surge in Canada
Canada still faces the “potential of a Delta surge” this Winter, warns Chief PHO Theresa Tam, while Omicron cases are just starting to be detected in the country. (At press time, more than a dozen cases of Omicron have been confirmed in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec – but hundreds of Canadians are in isolation and awaiting test results.) Canada is continuing to see daily COVID19 case counts increase, while hospitalizations are levelling off but “still elevated.” Ontario case counts are at 6-month highs and still rising. Quebec case counts are at 7-month highs, positivity rates and hospitalizations are rising somewhat, but still well below crisis levels. (63% of outbreaks are at Quebec daycares and elementary schools, but 19% of 5-11 year-olds have now received their first dose of vaccine.) Quebec is projecting hospitalizations will continue to rise by another 30%, even before considering Omicron.
“It really is best to act prudently and perhaps even overzealously in terms of our public health measures and our vaccination aggressiveness until we have a better idea of what exactly Omicron can or can’t do.” – Donald Vinh, infectious disease specialist, McGill U Health Centre
Finally, 16 months after it was obvious to many experts (and here in the Insider), Canada’s Chief PHO has acknowledged publicly that COVID19 can in fact be transmitted via respiratory aerosols – microscopic particles that can linger in the air like smoke for hours. This makes masking and ventilation far more important than physical distancing or the “hygiene theatre” of deep cleaning surfaces. Yet, perhaps because of the costly implications of managing airborne viruses in hospitals, Alberta is among the provinces still dismissing aerosols based on outdated data. Calgary Herald
“Chaos” and Cancelled Flights
Travel and tourism stocks dropped precipitously last week on the news of Omicron, flights bans and new border restrictions. Health Canada is urging us to “avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.” The WHO is now advising against international travel by unvaxxed seniors, the immunocompromised and those with comorbidities to areas with community transmission of COVID19. Tourism operators have had their holiday hopes dashed once more: “From shopping districts in Japan and tour guides in the Holy Land to ski resorts in the Alps and airlines the world over, a familiar dread is rising about the renewed restrictions.” Airlines are reporting that travellers are cancelling recently-booked trips, while countries like Japan have told airlines to stop accepting bookings for inbound flights. Canada’s airports warn that Ottawa’s plan to require COVID19 tests for all international arrivals (other than those from the US) will cause “chaos” and long lines as the travel season ramps up. “Do we really want people waiting for hours for a test in a customs hall?” (Unsurprisingly, the Canadian Airports Council believes that take-home COVID19 tests would be more practical.)
Queuing for Boosters
With Omicron’s greater transmissibility, the unvaxxed worldwide are now almost certain to be exposed to COVID19, and PHOs are focused on encouraging everyone to get fully vaccinated. The definition of “fully” continues to shift, of course: on Friday, NACI issued updated recommendations urging booster shots for all Canadians aged 50+ or otherwise at risk, and eventually recommending boosters be offered to all adults 6 months after their second dose. Starting today, Alberta will offer boosters to anyone aged 60+, and bookings for all adults are expected to open by “early next year.” Ontario will expand eligibility for 3rd doses to everyone aged 50+ in mid-December.
“Our main enemy right now is Delta… I do hope and wish that [the vaccine] gives us also protection against Omicron, but I have to be completely honest that we don’t have the science to make that statement yet.” – Kieran Moore, Ontario CMOH
While the vast majority of Canadians eagerly plan for their booster shots, 78% of BC chiropractors in attendance at their association’s AGM last week voted to take a stand against vax mandates and “maintain the right to medical freedom of choice.” Sadly, only one chiropractor spoke up against misinformation at the vote, although the college board says the views expressed there “are not representative” of the 1,300 chiropractors in the province. (BC chiropractors are specifically prohibited from providing vaccination advice, because of their lack of training in infectious disease.) PHO Bonnie Henry has indicated that vaccination will be mandatory for licensed health professionals in the province, and health minister Adrian Dix says there will be “no leeway” for chiropractors. CBC | Global
On Friday, Environment & Climate Change Canada announced that 3 white-tailed deer tested positive for COVID19 in the Estrie region of Quebec. (They were asymptomatic and apparently healthy.) Deer previously tested positive in the northeastern US, and cases have been found in mink farms, zoo animals and house pets, but this is the first case of COVID19 found in Canadian wildlife. Studies have demonstrated human-to-deer and deer-to-deer transmission. Global | CTV
As Western U and Fanshawe College cope with COVID19 outbreaks in campus residences, a number of other Ontario PSEs have reported isolated cases too:
Cambrian College reported 2 cases on campus Nov 26 and Dec 2.
Loyalist College reported 1 case on campus Nov 29 – apparently the first positive test connected with the campus community since Sep 1.
McMaster U reported 3 student cases on campus on Nov 25, Nov 30, and Dec 2.
It seems as if the more time one spends monitoring pandemic news, the more pessimistic one gets. Is that because ignorance is bliss? Because information overload leads to burnout? Or because detailed understanding of epidemiology results in more accurate forecasts of the course of the pandemic? (I’m asking for a friend…)
The Pros of Pessimism
Last year I shared a Stanford biological anthropologist’s argument that being a pessimist held some evolutionary advantages. (Assuming, of course, that it didn’t stop you from reproducing altogether.) Josie Garthwaite says that undervaluing optimistic long-shots and overestimating the likelihood of rare bad outcomes may be the safer course of action in the long term. Economists often argue that the poorest people “have nothing to lose,” but in fact they can be “especially risk-averse,” contradicting the theory of expected utility. “Any time where you have to avoid zero, pessimism will pay off, because you’d rather leave money on the table than run the risk of going extinct.” Stanford News
The Cons of Worrying
A new McGill/Neuro study concludes that pandemic worries have impaired people’s cognitive abilities and altered their perceptions of risk. Those who “experienced more pandemic worry” had reduced information processing speed, ability to retain information, and heightened sensitivity to the odds when taking risks. The worriers tended to underweight likely probabilities, and overweight unlikely probabilities – which could impact decisions about vaccination. “Under periods of high stress, like a global pandemic, our ability to think, plan, and evaluate risks is altered.” McGill Reporter
So I guess if you want to avoid “cognitive impairment,” you’d best leave all the pandemic worrying to me…
Back on Nov 26 I mentioned a number of #16Days videos, but naturally more have been released in the 12 days since. Here are 2 worth a look (so long as you’re prepared for some blunt discussion of disturbing topics)…
I am a Survivor
Cambrian College, Collège Boréal, and Laurentian U have collaborated on a moving new 3-min video for #16Days, which features several disturbing testimonials from rape survivors, who reflect on consent and survivors’ rights. YouTube
Bow Valley College released a 5-min #16Days video featuring registrar Lynn Connell, student and board representative Rasgun Rasgun, and sexual violence response advisor Hilary Jahelka. They reflect on the Montréal Massacre, summarize the ongoing toll that GBV continues to take on the lives of women and girls in Canada, and the need to create dialogue and generate action for change. They encourage us to start by reflecting on our own experiences, and how we can do better. YouTube
As always, thanks for reading!
Tomorrow, I’ll dig deeper into what we know about the Omicron variant so far, the likely timing of upcoming research findings, and some implications for campus reopenings in January. (This issue would have been far too long if I had included it today.)
See you then… Meanwhile, stay safe and be well!
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