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Coronavirus  

Federal government to send health-care workers to Ontario, Trudeau says

Healthcare workers to Ont.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says federal departments and some Canadian provinces are working to send health-care workers and equipment to help Ontario as it battles record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.

Trudeau said in a video update today that health care workers employed by government departments such as national defence and immigration will be redeployed to Ontario, and the Greater Toronto area in particular.

The prime minister says he has also spoken to the premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, who are evaluating what human resources and equipment they can free up in the next few days.

He says the federal government will also work with Ontario cities to deploy rapid tests to hard-hit locations and would cover the costs of relocating resources from other provinces who can spare them.

His statement comes as hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units continue to reach record heights in Ontario, which reported over 4,200 new COVID-19 infections more than the last 24 hours.

Premier Doug Ford announced a number of new restrictions to quell the skyrocketing numbers, but has faced pressure to roll back limits on outdoor activities, which critics have said will do little to stop the spread.

Meanwhile, data released by Canada's chief public health officer shows that the average daily number of hospitalizations and deaths in the country jumped by more than 30 per cent between April 9 and 15 compared to the week before.

The latest national-level data found that an average of 3,428 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day reporting period, representing a 34 per cent increase over the week before.

An average of 41 people died each day during the same period, which is 38 per cent higher than the previous week.

Dr. Theresa Tam says cases, test positivity rates and intensive care admissions are all rising as Canada battles a wave of COVID-19 that is driven by more contagious variants.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported over 1,300 cases.



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Vaccine registration opens to all B.C. adults this week

Vaccine registration expands

The province is inviting all adults in British Columbia to register for their COVID-19 vaccination this coming week.

B.C. has been rolling out the majority of its vaccination based on age, and currently, residents 63 and older are booking their vaccine appointments. Those between 55 and 65 can also receive their AztraZeneca vaccine at a local pharmacy.

Prior to booking appointments, residents must first register online here, before public health will reach out about booking the appointment.

The province has asked people to stagger their registration by age “to preserve system capacity.”

Starting Monday, people 40 and older are invited to register online, followed by 35 and older Tuesday, 30 and older Wednesday, 25 and older Thursday and 18 and older Friday.

To register, people will need to provide their personal health number, postal code, name, date of birth and email address.

As of Friday, close to 1.3 million doses of the vaccines have been administered in B.C.



Staff shortages, emotional toll weigh on health-care staff during Ontario's 3rd wave

Emotional toll, staff shortages

Nurse Manpreet Kainth knows every patient being treated under her team’s care in Humber River Hospital’s intensive care unit

Even with her 16 years of experience, the ever-growing workload and the daily scenes unfolding before her eyes - more acutely ill COVID-19 patients and young people fighting for their lives - weigh heavily on her.

There is no escaping that reality even when she's home with her family, who she tries not to burden with her worries.

“Sometimes when I sleep, I just keep thinking," she says during a short break after her team has intubated another COVID-19 patient struggling to breathe. "Those things are going through my mind and I just want to shut it down, just shut it off for a minute."

Another worry that keeps her up at night is the ICU staffing crunch and her team's high level of turnover at this stage of the third wave of the pandemic.

"The thing is, we are not only taking care of the patients," she says. "We have to take care of our staff. Everybody's burned out."

Severely ill COVID-19 patients are being hospitalized in Ontario in higher numbers than ever, as the province and health-care sector scramble to increase capacity through transfering patients to other hospitals, cancelling non-essential procedures and setting up field units.

As COVID-19 cases continue to soar - 4,250 new infections were reported Sunday, with 741 patients in intensive care - the provincial government has promised to add between 700 and 1,000 additional ICU beds.

"It’s fine to add a bed, but not so much if you don't have people that can care for the person in the bed,” says Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses Association.

She says there is already a shortage of nurses in hospital ICUs and adding more beds will only exacerbate the problem.

"The nurses are going to be further stretched than they already are, and that takes a physical and emotional toll on people when they are placed in these situations,” she says.

The nurses McKenna speaks with compare the situation to a battlefield. They are used to having patients die, but the duration of the crisis and their inability to connect with friends and family due to infection risk has pushed nurses to the brink.

“I am worried about staffing,” says Raman Rai, manager of ICU at Humber River. “Every single day, every single shift, we wish we had more ICU-trained nurses.”

The hospital has redeployed nurses from other units as well as nursing students to support ICU staff, but those with critical-care certificates are in short supply.

A year into the pandemic, Rai says burnout is taking a toll on staff.

“The pandemic has been long and hard on the entire ICU team, and we are having nurses who are feeling that they need some time off,” she says. “It's been difficult to try to get vacation, and they are a bit overworked.”

Rai said she’s seeing an increase in people taking sick time, or staff requesting a day away. If it can’t be accommodated, they’re encouraged to switch shifts.

The team also takes time each shift to decompress and discuss difficult situations they’re witnessing - like the recent deaths of two COVID-19 variant patients from the same family, on the same day.

Doctors are feeling the strain, too.

“People get tired all the time, and it has impact on the family as well. You don’t have much time to spend with them,” says Dr. Ali Ghafouri, an intensivist at Humber River.

“We used to have some vacation time, but now we can't even go, because first of all, nowhere to go. And second of all, they're asking for more help, so we are spending more of our vacation time in the hospital.”

On Friday, the government pleaded with other provinces to send urgently needed medical personnel. In a letter to her provincial counterparts, deputy health minister Helen Angus estimated Ontario will be short 4,145 hospital nurses over the next four months.

McKenna says the government’s plea for help is "a precarious strategy" as all provinces are facing a surge in cases of COVID-19 variants.

"I'm really worried about our workforce today and what they're facing going into the workplaces right now, and how long they can keep up this pace," she says.





Germany remembers nearly 80,000 dead in COVID pandemic

Remembering 80,000 lost

Germany paid tribute on Sunday to the nearly 80,000 people it has lost to the coronavirus, even as the country argues about how to get a grip on another rise in infections.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier led a memorial event at Berlin’s Konzerthaus concert hall with Chancellor Angela Merkel and a few other top officials. They were joined by five relatives of people who died over the past year in placing a circle of candles in the mostly empty hall.

Steinmeier said that months of focusing on infection rates and other statistics were “understandable, but my impression is that we as a society don't appreciate often enough that ... people stand behind all the figures.”

“Their suffering and their death has often remained invisible in public,” he said.

Germany's confirmed death toll from COVID-19 stood at 79,914 on Sunday, an increase of 67 over the previous day. That is the fifth-highest total in Europe, after the U.K., Italy, Russia and France.

Germany had a comparatively small number of deaths in the pandemic’s first phase, but saw much higher infection levels in the fall and winter. In January, more than 1,000 deaths per day were reported at times in the country of 83 million people.

Infections have increased again over the past two months as a more contagious coronavirus variant first detected in Britain took hold. Germany has reported 3.14 million cases since the pandemic began.

Anita Schedel, whose husband, Hannes, a doctor, died of COVID-19 a year ago, called on Germans to keep sticking to rules meant to contain the virus.

“Even though corona fatigue is increasing after 12 months of the pandemic, I appeal to you all: hang in there,” she said. “It comes down to every single person.”

Merkel is trying to get a bill through parliament that would mandate an “emergency brake” in areas where there are more than 100 weekly new cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The nationwide rate stood at 162 on Sunday.

It would require the closure of stores, cultural and sports facilities, limits on personal contacts and nighttime curfews. The idea is to end the patchwork of measures that has characterized the pandemic response across Germany’s 16 states.

Merkel says the plan is needed to prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed, but state governments and others have found fault with it. Meanwhile, Germany's vaccination campaign is beginning to gather pace after a much-criticized slow start.

“We are worn out by the burden of the pandemic and rubbed raw by the argument about the right way” to deal with it, Steinmeier said. “That's another reason why we need a moment to pause, a moment beyond daily politics, a moment that allows us to look together at the human tragedy of the pandemic.”

The president also remembered those who died of other causes since the crisis started, noting that many “were alone under the conditions of the pandemic — they died without support and a farewell.”

Finja Wilkens, whose father, Hans-Gerd, died of leukemia in November, recalled being unable to see him other than sometimes by video call during his time in hospital.

“My dad was always there, for us and for others, and it wasn’t possible for us to be there for him at the most difficult time of his life,” she said. “We feel as though we left him in the lurch.”



COVID-19 exposures at two more Kelowna schools

Two more school exposures

Two more Kelowna schools have had recent COVID-19 exposures.

Saturday night, School District 23 disclosed the two recent exposures at Ellison Elementary and the Central School on Richter Street.

The school district did not say when the exposures occurred, but noted the people who are infected are now self-isolating at home.

“Interior Health follows up with anyone potentially exposed to a confirmed case directly through contact tracing,” the district said in a statement.

The exposures come after five more local school exposures were disclosed on Wednesday, including another exposure at Ellison Elementary, and another three were disclosed Friday.

Interior Health currently lists 16 recent exposures in Central Okanagan schools on its school exposure website, but this doesn't include the recent exposure at the Central School.

While most of these exposures occurred more than a week ago, the Rose Valley Elementary School exposures occurred as recently as last Wednesday.



New weekly cases in Okanagan hit new high, but growth slowing

Weekly cases hit new high

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the Okanagan continued to rise to unprecedented levels last week, but the rate of growth has slowed.

New geographical data released by the BC Centre for Disease Control Friday showed 414 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in the Okanagan between April 9-15, the largest single-week rise in the region since the BC CDC began releasing the data in October.

Weekly case numbers have been rising rapidly across the province in the past month, including in the Interior, but the latest data shows that rise may be slowing slightly.

With 393 new cases identified in the Okanagan between April 2-8, the latest numbers show just a five per cent increase week over week. The week prior saw a 76 per cent jump in weekly cases in the Okanagan and the week before that saw a 45 per cent increase.

Elsewhere in the Interior, the Thompson-Caribou-Shuswap region saw new cases rise to 128, from 91 the week before. The Kootenay Boundary region remained somewhat stable with 39 new cases, and the East Kootenay region dropped to 59 new cases.

Across the entire Interior, active cases dropped for the first time in weeks on Friday, to 904 from 910 the previous day. There remains 23 people hospitalized with the virus in the Interior, 10 of whom are being treated in ICU.

Provincewide, there were actually 18 fewer new weekly cases between April 9 and 15 compared to the week prior, with 7,522 total cases. Total new weekly cases in B.C. have consistently risen since the beginning of February.

New cases have decreased in some of B.C.'s hot spot regions, like the North Shore-Coast Garibaldi region, which includes Whistler, along with the Northeast and the Vancouver regions.

It's been almost three weeks since Dr. Bonnie Henry implemented new health orders that shut down all indoor restaurant dining in the province. That order is expected to be extended on Monday.



Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

Backtracking police powers

Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in Ontario to stop any motorist or pedestrian and ask where they live and why they're not home prompted the provincial government on Saturday to reconsider the measures.

As the number of infected people in hospital reached record levels, Premier Doug Ford tweeted that the measures, which also included shutting down all outdoor recreational facilities and playgrounds, would be clarified.

"Ontario’s enhanced restrictions were always intended to stop large gatherings where spread can happen," Ford said. "Our regulations will be amended to allow playgrounds, but gatherings outside will still be enforced."

Earlier, a government source speaking on background told The Canadian Press that a "clarification" of the police powers was pending final approval.

"We have heard a lot of feedback on this in the last 24 hours in terms of the scope and applicability," said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Civil libertarians, and pundits have attacked new anti-pandemic restrictions announced Friday by Ford as misguided.

The added police powers aimed at enforcing stay-at-home orders, they said, were overkill.

The closing of outdoor spaces puzzled many public health experts, who said the measures didn't make sense.

"Outdoor activities are vital for mental and physical health, especially with stay-at-home orders," Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who sits on the province’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, said in a tweet.

"Science is clear: Outdoor COVID transmission is extremely rare."

The pandemic, meanwhile, continued unabated on Saturday. The number of patients in hospital due to the novel coronavirus rose above 2,000 for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, with 726 in intensive care and 501 needing a ventilator, authorities reported

Health officials also recorded 34 more deaths related to the virus - the highest single-day count in almost two months , when 47 people were reported as dying from coronavirus disease.

The province logged 4,362 new cases on Saturday, down from Friday's record-setting number of 4,812. Globally, the pandemic has now killed more than three million people.

Politicians were among those denouncing the new police powers.

In a note to constituents, Jill Andrew, a New Democrat provincial legislator, said the measures show the Ford government is out of touch.

"Let’s be very real here: We are not going to police our way out of the pandemic," he said. "The reality here is that this will likely impact Black, Indigenous, and people of colour."

"I am very concerned about arbitrary stops of people by police at any time," Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a tweet.

While violating restrictions can carry a $750 fine, failure to provide police with requested information can result in criminal charges, according to the province's association of police chiefs.

Large and small police forces across the province, however, said they had no intention of exercising their new-found powers.

"I would like to reassure our citizens that our officers will not be conducting random vehicle or individual stops,” Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said in a statement on Saturday.

Andrew Fletcher, chief of the South Simcoe Police Service, said officers would only act on complaints. Police forces from Thunder Bay to Ottawa to Toronto and Woodstock expressed similar positions.

Civil rights groups, however, took little comfort.

“Ontario is one step closer to becoming a police state,” said Joanna Baron, executive director of the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation.

“Low income and minority communities have borne the brunt of this pandemic in terms of cases and mortality, and they are now more likely to bear the brunt of police enforcement.”

The new restrictions, including a two-week extension to the province's stay-at-home order until May 20, were announced amid dire warnings from government scientific advisers that the pandemic was only set to worsen.

Other measures include further restrictions on outdoor gatherings and indoor religious services, while recreational facilities such as sports fields and playgrounds are now closed. Ontario intends to shut its borders with Quebec and Manitoba to non-essential travel effective Monday.

Ford said Friday the province was "on its heels" and the measures were urgently needed to bring the province's raging COVID-19 situation under control.

But experts said Ford had missed the mark on key drivers of the pandemic, including a lack of paid sick leave for essential workers and dearth of evidence playgrounds have been a transmission source.

“Doug Ford’s handling of this pandemic has been an abject failure and absolute disaster," said Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, a father of two young children, welcomed the change of heart on playgrounds, saying "common sense wins."

"Now let’s have a discussion on other outdoor amenities as well," Brown said.



Alberta confirms Canada's second blood clot after AstraZeneca vaccine

2nd blood clot after vaccine

UPDATE: 11:30 a.m.

Alberta has confirmed the country's second rare blood clot case in a patient who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the province's chief medical health officer announced Saturday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the male patient, who is in his 60s and recovering, marks the second Canadian case of the blood clot disorder known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT.

The diagnosis does not change the province's risk assessment of the vaccine, she said.

"I continue to recommend AstraZeneca for anyone who is 55 and older, and to recommend that all Albertans get vaccinated as soon as they are able," she said in a statement.

"It is the best way to protect your health and the health of those around you."

More than 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered across Canada to date.

The global frequency of VITT has been estimated at about one case in 100,000 to 250,000 doses. In a stark comparison, Albertans 55 and older who are diagnosed with COVID-19 have a one in 200 chance of dying from that infection, Hinshaw said.

A Quebec woman was the first in Canada to develop a blood clot after being vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

The woman received the vaccine produced at the Serum Institute of India, known as Covishield, and was recovering at home, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Tuesday.

"While every adverse reaction is unfortunate, it is important to remember that these blood clots are extremely rare and that this vaccine helps prevent the much higher risks that come from COVID-19 infection," Hinshaw said.

Other pandemic concerns simmered to the surface in Ontario on Saturday, a day after the premier announced anti-pandemic powers that allow police to stop any motorist or pedestrian and ask where they live and why they're not home.

The strict new measures drew furious criticism as the number of infected people in hospital reached record levels. Politicians and civil libertarians attacked the anti-pandemic restrictions as misguided, describing the beefed-up police powers aimed at enforcing stay-at-home orders as overkill.

"I am very concerned about arbitrary stops of people by police at any time," Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a Saturday tweet.

While violating restrictions can carry a $750 fine, failure to provide police with requested information can result in criminal charges, according to the province's association of police chiefs.

Big and small police forces across the province, however, said they had no intention of exercising their new-found powers.

"I would like to reassure our citizens that our officers will not be conducting random vehicle or individual stops,” Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said on Saturday.

Police forces in Ottawa, Thunder Bay and Halton Region also declared their intention to avoid random stops. Andrew Fletcher, chief of the South Simcoe Police Service, said officers would only act on complaints.

Civil rights groups, however, took little comfort in such statements.

“Ontario is one step closer to becoming a police state,” said Joanna Baron, executive director of the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation.

“Low income and minority communities have borne the brunt of this pandemic in terms of cases and mortality, and they are now more likely to bear the brunt of police enforcement.”

More than 2,000 patients were in Ontario's hospitals due to the novel coronavirus for the first time since the onset of the year-long pandemic. Of the 2,065 patients receiving treatment, the province said 726 were in intensive care and 501 were on a ventilator.

Ontario logged 4,362 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, down from the single-day peak of 4,812 recorded a day earlier.

Quebec also reported its highest number of hospitalizations and intensive care cases due to COVID-19 since the second wave.

Over the past 24 hours the province recorded 692 hospitalizations, 175 of which were in ICUs, health officials said.

The figures mark the highest number of hospitalizations since Feb. 19 and the highest number of ICU cases since Feb. 3.

The province's case count climbed by 1,537 on Saturday.

Elsewhere, officials inNunavut reported six new cases of COVID-19, all in the capital city of Iqaluit.

New Brunswick reported 11 new new infections, while Nova Scotia logged eight.

Manitoba reported 183 new COVID-19 case.


ORIGINAL: 9:40 a.m.

Alberta's chief medical officer says the province has confirmed a rare blood clot case in a patient who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the male patient, who is in his 60s and recovering, marks the second Canadian case of the blood clot disorder known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT.

More than 700,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered across Canada to date.

Hinshaw says the second case does not change the province's risk assessment, and she continues to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for anyone 55 and older.

She says the global frequency of VITT has been estimated at about one case in 100,000 to 250,000 doses of vaccine.

In a stark comparison, she says Albertans 55 and older who are diagnosed with COVID-19 have a one in 200 chance of dying from that infection.

More coming.



Interior Health is vaccinating entire adult populations of dozens of small communities

Vaccinating entire towns

Adult residents of dozens of small Interior communities are, or soon will be, eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of their age.

Interior Health has taken a “whole community approach” to its immunization program in small communities across the Interior, for people 18 and older. IH says residents of these communities face barriers to accessing larger immunization clinics in urban places, so smaller clinics are being brought to them.

While some clinics have already come and gone, others are currently in operation, others will be up and running in the coming weeks.

In a curious move, IH has made no mention to the media of immunizing entire populations of dozens of smaller communities, but Castanet has reached out for more information.

Communities in the Thompson-Okanagan include:

  • Ashcroft (April 26 – May 6)
  • Barriere (April 22 – April 30)
  • Beaverdell (April 12)
  • Cache Creek (April 26 – May 6)
  • Celista (April 6 – April 10)
  • Chase (April 12 – April 21)
  • Enderby (March 15 – ongoing)
  • Greenwood (April 16- April 17)
  • Lee Creek (April 12 – April 21)
  • Magna Bay (April 6 – April 10)
  • Scotch Creek (April 6 – April 10)
  • Seymour Arm (April 6 – April 10)
  • Sicamous (March 25 – April 30)
  • Sun Peaks (May 4 – May 7)

A full list of the 47 communities where adult residents can be vaccinated can be found here.

Residents can register for their vaccine appointment online here, or by calling 1-833-838-2323 between 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Those living outside of the noted communities must wait for the age-based vaccine rollout. Currently, those 64 and older can book their appointment, while those between 55 and 65 can receive their AztraZeneca vaccine at a local pharmacy.

“Immunization clinics will verify postal codes at the time of appointments,” IH said in a statement. “We are aware of some instances of people traveling from other regions to seek vaccinations in these communities. This not only takes away from the calculated vaccine supply for the community but may also potentially expose residents to COVID-19 when people travel from other regions.”

The entire adult population of the Windermere local health area in eastern B.C. will also be able to receive their vaccine starting Monday, after new cases have soared there in recent weeks.

The Windermere local health area, which includes Invermere, Radium Hot Springs, Windermere, Fairmont Hot Springs and Canal Flats, saw new weekly cases jump to 24 between March 28 and April 3, followed by another 34 between April 4 and 10.

With a population of just over 10,000 people, the most recent data shows a weekly infection rate of 335 cases per 100,000 people. The Central Okanagan, meanwhile, had a weekly infection rate of 136 cases per 100,000 people. As a result, Interior Health has made the move to vaccinate the entire community, to limit transmission.

A similar move to vaccinate most of a region's population was recently made in Whistler, where widespread transmission has led to a large number of P.1 variant of concern cases.



SD23 and teachers' union discuss COVID cases in school system

COVID-19 in the classroom

UPDATE: 10:30 a.m.

While one Castanet reader said there were more than 100 people isolating at the Kelowna Secondary School due to COVID-19 exposures, the school's principal says this is simply not the case.

"At this time, we have fewer than 25 people isolating at Kelowna Secondary School," KSS principal Troy White told Castanet.

"We need to be cognizant and careful not to listen to rumours as this raises the anxiety of the entire school community. Such anxiety can negatively impacts mental health and learning."

White applauded the KSS community on their adherence to protocols during this unusual school year.

"Students and staff have been following our COVID-19 protocols extremely well and Kelowna Secondary School is a safe place," White said.

School District 23 superintendent Kevin Kaardal told Castanet that just because students are isolating at home, doesn't mean they're COVID-positive.

"They are being isolated out of an abundance of caution," he said. "One COVID-19 positive person (an exposure) can result in 50+ people (two classes) being isolated to reduce the risk of transmission," he said.

Last week, Provincial Health Officer said the data continues to show that B.C. schools are safe environments.


ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

As COVID-19 exposures surge within the Central Okanagan, school parents are asking why and what's being done.

Castanet continues to receive daily questions regarding exposures within School District 23. One anonymous question typifies the types of questions/statements we have received, "Kelowna Secondary School has so many COVID cases. There are over 100 people isolating and they make it seem like nothing."

The questions have made their way to B.C.'s top doctor. On Thursday Dr. Bonnie Henry referenced two studies in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions that showed that the limited transmission seen in schools does not appear to be driving transmission in the community.

Castanet reached out to SD23 superintendent Kevin Kaardal to gauge the school district's reaction to what appears to be increased cases in schools.

"Please remember that persons isolating are not infected. They are being isolated out of an abundance of caution. One COVID 19 positive person (an exposure) can result in 50+ people (two classes) being isolated to reduce the risk of transmission," he said.

Kaardal says SD23 works closely with Interior Health and takes their direction on exposure-response from the health authority.

"It is worrying that exposures are on the rise in the community and therefore in schools. I encourage everyone to follow public health advice to flatten the infection curve and to get vaccinated as soon as you are able and supply is available. As Dr. Bonnie Henry shared, schools have low rates of transmission. Schools continue to be safe places to be."

The Central Okanagan Teachers Union tends to agree with Kaardal's assessment. Union president Susan Bauhart says, "the only thing I can honestly say, safely, is that I do believe that the variants are here and have taken hold."

Bauhart says they are starting to hear that the school district is running out of teachers on-call, and are struggling to keep up with the increased demand for replacement teachers. "It's every day now. It's either repeats in schools or more schools added and it's spreading and it's spreading fast."

Bauhart says her members have expressed concern over the spread of COVID-19 variants and she has written a letter to Interior Health on behalf of her membership asking, "can you please get them vaccinated."

"I would really like to see everybody tested in some of these schools and then see what the real numbers are," says Bauhart. "I think it's pretty well known that B.C.'s testing is not up to the levels of other provinces, they haven't been testing as much."

It appears the province has been listening as Dr. Henry has said that school staff will be prioritized for vaccines in the coming weeks.

To date, no school-age children in B.C. have died from COVID-19, and about one in 200 people under 18 who become infected with the virus require hospitalization.



Ontario reports 4,362 new COVID-19 cases, record number of patients in hospital

New powers draw criticism

UPDATE: 9:15 a.m.

New anti-pandemic powers that allow police in Ontario to stop any motorist or pedestrian and ask where they live and why they're not home drew furious criticism on Saturday as the number of infected people in hospital reached record levels.

More than 2,000 patients were in the province's hospitals due to the novel coronavirus for the first time since the onset of the year-long pandemic, with 726 in intensive care and 501 needing a ventilator, authorities reported

Health officials also recorded 34 more deaths related to the virus, the highest single-day count since Feb. 19, when 47 people were reported as dying from coronavirus disease.

The province logged 4,362 new cases on Saturday, down from Friday's record-setting number of 4,812.

Amid the grim tally, politicians, civil libertarians, and pundits attacked new anti-pandemic restrictions announced Friday by Premier Doug Ford as misguided.

The added police powers aimed at enforcing stay-at-home orders, they said, were overkill.

"I am very concerned about arbitrary stops of people by police at any time," Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a Saturday tweet.

In a note to constituents, Jill Andrew, a provincial New Democrat politician in Toronto, said the measures show just how out of touch the Ford government is.

"Let’s be very real here: We are not going to police our way out of the pandemic," Andrews said. "The reality here is that this will likely impact Black, Indigenous, and people of colour."

While violating restrictions can carry a $750 fine, failure to provide police with requested information can result in criminal charges, according to the province's association of police chiefs.

Big and small police forces across the province, however, said they had no intention of exercising their new-found powers.

"I would like to reassure our citizens that our officers will not be conducting random vehicle or individual stops,” Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said on Saturday.

Andrew Fletcher, chief of the South Simcoe Police Service, said officers would only act on complaints. Police forces in Thunder Bay and Ottawa also took similar positions.

Civil rights groups, however, took little comfort in such statements.

“Ontario is one step closer to becoming a police state,” said Joanna Baron, executive director of the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation.

“Low income and minority communities have borne the brunt of this pandemic in terms of cases and mortality, and they are now more likely to bear the brunt of police enforcement.”

The new restrictions, including a two-week extension to the province's stay-at-home order until May 20, were announced amid dire warnings from the government's scientific advisers that the pandemic was only set to worsen.

Other new measures include further restrictions on outdoor gatherings and indoor religious services, while recreational facilities such as sports fields, playgrounds and golf courses are now closed. Ontario intends to close the borders with neighbouring provinces Quebec and Manitoba effective Monday.

Ford said the province was "on its heels" and the new measures were urgently needed to bring the province's COVID-19 situation under control.

But experts said the Ford government had missed the mark on key drivers of the raging pandemic, including a lack of paid sick leave for essential workers.

“Doug Ford’s handling of this pandemic has been an abject failure and absolute disaster," said Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

Randall Denley, a former Ontario Tory candidate based in Ottawa, called the moves an "odd mix of bluster, misdirection, overdue restrictions and authoritarian, punitive measures" that would simply anger people.

"This is a police-state tactic that has the potential to lose the voluntary public support that is the key to the provincial plan," Denley wrote in a National Post column.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, urged Ford to reconsider the expanded law enforcement powers.

“To give the police the right to stop and question citizens is akin to martial law," Thomas said. "If improperly applied or perceived as being used to target, it will be remembered in history as carding on steroids."


ORIGINAL: 8:20 a.m.

Ontario is reporting 4,362 new cases of COVID-19 today along with a record number of virus patients in provincial hospitals.

There are currently 2,065 people receiving hospital treatment for COVID-19, marking the first time that figure has topped the 2,000 mark since the onset of the pandemic.

Of those patients, 726 are in intensive care units and 501 need a ventilator.

The number of new infections is down from the single-day high of 4,812 recorded a day earlier.

Provincial health officials also reported 34 more deaths related to the pandemic today.

That's the highest single-day death count since Feb. 19, when 47 people died from the virus.

The high numbers come a day after Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions to help slow the spread of the virus, while giving police new powers to enforce the measures.



Henry sends mixed messages on outdoor gatherings ahead of hot weekend

Mixed messages from Henry

Ahead of what is forecast to be the hottest weekend of the year so far, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is urging British Columbians to limit outdoor gatherings to as few people as possible.

But the message comes without a change to Henry’s public health order on gatherings and events, which currently allows for outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, whether in the park, beach or in your backyard.

“Even if we can see people outside of our household, we shouldn’t right now,” said Henry Thursday. “We know that outside is lower risk. It’s not zero but it is lower risk.”

By offering a less than a clear-cut message, Henry attempted to walk a fine line encouraging people to limit social interactions, while maintaining an outlet for some form of social interaction.

If people do choose to gather outside in groups of up to 10, Henry implored people to use masks and maintain social distance if possible.

“It’s likely that without you or them knowing it, someone in your community, in your connections has COVID, may not be aware of it and is potentially infectious,” she said. “The more people you see, the higher that likelihood would be.”

Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people do not apply to groups dining at restaurant patios or other outdoor public dining areas, and such activities are still restricted to immediate households.

Single people are limited to indoor gatherings with their “core bubble” — either everyone in your shared household, or for people who live alone, “a maximum of two people you see regularly.”

Current public health orders continue to ban indoor social gatherings of anyone outside your household or core bubble. That means not inviting friends or extended family inside your home and not hosting indoor parties.

Sunny skies and temperatures of up to 25 degrees Celsius are expected to dominate southern B.C. this weekend.

Meanwhile, modelling released by the province indicates that without cutting the current rate of contact among British Columbians, new COVID-19 cases could surpass 2,000 daily by the end of the month.

Leading independent experts warn such case loads could overwhelm the hospital system.



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