Good morning, and happy Monday!
But most CdnPSE campuses have been preoccupied with managing their first in-person convocation ceremonies since 2019 – a “triple-cohort” that is resulting in dozens of ceremonies at some institutions, and convention halls filled with thousands at others. (I attended my eldest’s own delayed celebration this weekend, at one of the latter types. Thankfully, masks were mandatory.)
Some of you have reported that it’s been particularly challenging to stage these “convocation do-overs” when staff turnover has meant few on your team can actually remember the last time it was done in person. Pandemic re-entry is challenging…
Last week (“Waiting to Exhale”) I summarized how COVID19 was easing up, from Canada to China (though it remains the #3 cause of death in this country), and forecasts of a major wave again this Fall that will require us all to get vaccine booster shots. Things are pretty much the same, but more so…
Blowing in the Wind
The WHO believes the COVID19 situation in North Korea is far worse than the millions of cases of “fever” acknowledged by Pyongyang to date. (The country has never attempted a COVID19 vaccination campaign, leaving the population largely unprotected as the Omicron strain spreads like wildfire.) Officials in Dandong, a city on China’s border with North Korea, are taking “zero tolerance” to a whole new level, ordering residents along the Yalu River to keep their windows closed so that COVID19 can’t blow in from across the border. (Scientists, even in Hong Kong, are skeptical that viral particles could travel such great distances outdoors.) Reuters | Vice
Gaokao in Lockdown
High school students and teachers across China have reportedly been locked down in their schools for the past 40 days in preparation for the gruelling 3-day college entrance exam, the Gaokao. (With official zero tolerance for COVID19, even a single case could put a whole school into quarantine. In Shanghai, the Gaokao was delayed a month due to lockdowns.) This year, a record 11.9M students are writing the Gaokao, in one of the nation’s largest mass gatherings that could become a superspreader event. Less than 2% of them will make it into China’s top universities – but first, they have to pass temperature checks, masks, and negative PCR tests. In some regions, student exams are disinfected under UV lamps before being graded. The Communist Party “salutes the eternal spirit of struggle” embodied by this cohort of students, many of whom have spent 3 years in and out of online learning. Washington Post | New York Times
OK, Maybe a Lab Leak…
I’ve cautiously covered the debate on the origins of COVID19 for more than 2 years now. (Critics of the WHO task force that dismissed the possibility that the virus emerged from a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology often sound too much like conspiracy theorists.) But it’s worth mentioning that WHO’s expert panel released a new report last Thursday that contradicted its previous stance, and emphasized the need to “remain open” to the lab leak possibility to explain COVID19’s origins. Since China has been uncooperative in the investigation, and evidence is being lost to time, the odds of this controversy being resolved are dwindling. CBC
“What we’re finding out here, in real time, is that we know very little about what’s going on, and I think it’s too early to be giving blanket reassurances.” – Michael Worobey, evolutionary biologist, uArizona
By contrast, Canadians are embracing spring fever and living the high life…
A week ago, we were seeing a raft of ONpse announcements about the end of campus mask mandates – with a few notable exceptions like Western, Ontario Tech, uWaterloo and uWindsor. (At the same time, scores of US campuses from California to the east coast were reimposing mask requirements in the face of surging case counts.) Since then, Ontario has ended all mask mandates outside of hospitals and LTC homes, while Ottawaand Washington have suspended COVID19 testing requirements, at least temporarily, to ease airport chaos. (Proof of vaccination is still mandatory for domestic and international air travellers in Canada.) So, small wonder we’ve seen more CdnPSE announcements in the past week: Dalhousie U dropped its mask mandate last Friday (except for healthcare settings). In Ontario, Carleton, Fanshawe College, uGuelph and uTorontohave now announced they will drop their campus mask mandates around the end of June. Many CdnPSEs continue to “strongly recommend” masks be worn indoors, and most reserve the right to reimpose a mandate should the pandemic worsen again.
“We expect some will continue masking in certain settings while others will not, and we ask everyone to be appreciative and respectful of one another’s choices in this regard.” – Frank Harvey, provost, Dalhousie U
It seems clear that Canadian PHOs want to wait until Fall to get most of us our 2nd booster shots (4th doses), when they hope to have a next-generation vaccine fine-tuned to address the Omicron variants that are circulating (and some 6M doses of flu vaccine, too). Now that the Ontario election is won, CMOH Kieran Moore is even admitting that mask mandates could return to the province “if it’s really, absolutely required.”
Some experts have long been insisting that “fully-vaxxed” needs to include a 3rd booster shot – currently just 56% of Canadians over age 12. But I’m with those who say we should instead focus on keeping our vaccines current, since efficacy wanes within 4 or 5 months. It doesn’t so much matter how much, as how recent. (What has Pfizer done for you lately?)
“The authorities have got it wrong… Really, this is a three-dose vaccine.” – Colin Furness, infectious disease epidemiologist, uToronto
McMaster U researchers say their revolutionary home saliva test for COVID19 could eliminate the need for time-consuming PCR tests, and will be ready for worldwide distribution within a year through a licensing agreement with Zentek Ltd. The “aptamer-based” test uses your smartphone, a handheld reader the size of a USB stick, and a plug-in cartridge – and could conceivably be extended to other infectious diseases with other cartridges, from Influenza to UTIs. Primary care physicians, LTC homes and the hospitality sector will likely get the earliest units. “By anticipating the future need for testing we will be able to react much more quickly when specific new threats emerge.” Global | McMaster | Vimeo
Speaking of which…
After 2 years in varying states of isolation, as Canadians drop their masks en masse this spring, PHOs report an unseasonable surge in cases of influenza. PHAC has reported thousands of lab-confirmed flu cases in May, compared to just 1 case last year. (Pre-COVID, Canada tended to see ~173 cases a week in the springtime.) PHAC warns that influenza is currently “above the epidemic threshold.” Theresa Tam urges us all to exercise “personal protective habits” like masking, even if it’s no longer mandatory. CTV
Flu the Coop
Avian influenza is continuing to spread worldwide, and outbreaks are escalating at Canadian poultry farms: at last count, 16 farms in BC, 31 in AB, 1 in SK, and 26 in ON. Officials suspect it’s migrating birds, not globe-trotting tourists, who are responsible for the spread – but once it jumps from wild birds into a factory farm, it quickly spreads and leads to the destruction of millions of birds. (Thankfully, existing strains of bird flu rarely infect humans, although they have killed 359 in the past decade.) Global
Right now, most eyes are on Monkeypox – which more than doubled in its 3rd week, from 550 lab-confirmed cases last week to 1,285 now, according to the WHO. (Suspected cases tracked by Global.Health have risen from 1,100 to 1,838 in that time.) Here in Canada, we’ve gone from 73 cases last Monday to 112 as of Friday – all of them in males, 98 in Quebec and 82 of those in Montréal. “High-risk” individuals are being vaccinated in Montréal and Toronto, in collaboration with LGBTQ groups and bath houses. (Although Monkeypox is still not considered an STD, most Canadian cases have spread sexually.) Oh – and now, some experts believe the Monkeypox virus has the potential for airborne transmission, through “blister fluids suspended in the air.” The CDC is urging anyone infected to wear a mask, although “aerosol transmission is not an obvious transmission pathway at present.” Experts agree that Monkeypox can definitely spread through larger respiratory droplets, although most cases have involved direct close contact. So, the CDC is now urging Americans to wear masks again while travelling – as protection against Monkeypox, not COVID19. (And also, they suggest, maybe don’teat bushmeat from Africa or play with roadkill.)
“Wearing a mask can help protect you from many diseases, including monkeypox.” – CDC Guidance, Jun 7 2022
There’s enough in the air these days that you’ll see me continuing to wear my mask in most indoor situations, except when I’m presenting. I won’t judge you if you weigh your risks differently, but I just don’t see the point of getting sick…
As the public starts swarming airports and international students entertain the idea of study abroad, expect to see more regional and national recruitment campaigns like this…
There Be Wales Here
Study in Wales has launched recruitment campaigns this summer targeting undergraduate and postgraduate students from Ireland, Germany, and the US, including video ads running on TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. The TV spot for Ireland quickly introduces the similarities between the 2 countries, “closer than you think,” while the German spot speaks more slowly in Deutsch. The full version (above) includes plenty of beauty shots of landscapes, beaches, and campuses, “where epic landscapes inspire you and where world-class universities connect you to industry and to the future.” Ireland (:30 sec) | Germany (:40 sec) | America (:69 sec) | StudyinWales website | PIE News
As always, thanks for reading!
Last week was a bit hectic for me, as it was for many of you. I hope to be back in your inbox more regularly this week.
Meanwhile, good luck out there, and stay safe!
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