‘Stronger control’ needed as cases of COVID-19 variants soar, Canada’s top doctor says

Tougher measures are needed to combat a rising number of COVID-19 infections fuelled by more contagious variants, Canada’s top doctor said Friday, but she stopped short of saying what exactly those measures should be.“The race between vaccines and variants is at a critical point,” said Dr. Theresa Tam told a briefing in Ottawa with government officials.“It is clear that we need stronger control to combat variants of concern that are driving rapid epidemic growth in many areas of the country.” Over the past week, Tam said there have been an average of more than 6,800 new COVID-19 cases reported daily and 30 deaths. She said the number of individuals in hospital intensive care units is 23 per cent higher than last week. The number of new variant cases has more than doubled over the past week, Tam said. To date, about 25,000 cases of COVID-19 variants have been reported across the country, with about 90 per cent of those being the B. 117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.But while she said “stronger control” is needed, Tam was less clear when asked exactly what such measures might look like.She said provinces “have to look at what works for their own context,” but with “less room for error” when it comes to trying to reduce the number of contacts between individuals. She expressed support for measures such as Ontario’s stay-at-home order, which is in effect for the next month. “These are some of the types of measures that will reduce those contact rates,” Tam said. “I think that in many of the jurisdictions, chief medical officers have told me of course there are outbreaks in different settings, but a lot of them have also observed social gatherings.” Ontario topped more than 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with more than 500 people in intensive care units, the highest number of ICU patients related to the virus since the pandemic began. “What is our concern ... actually to me is the ICUs filling up, not just hospitalizations. There’s an absolute limit to ICU capacity,” Tam said, speaking of the situation across the country, and noting that while equipment can be added, it’s more difficult to quickly add the necessary staff. “You cannot grow those things rapidly,” she said. Millions of vaccine doses are expected to arrive in Canada in the coming weeks, as previously announced, including one million doses a week until the end of May of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, increasing to two million doses a week in June. Further doses of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are also expected in the coming weeks, for a total of 44 million doses by the end of June. Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she also hopes to have a delivery schedule by next week for the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with deliveries expected to begin at the end of this month. “Don’t be complacent just because we have vaccines. Vaccines are not going to be able to help with flattening the curve immediately,” Tam said. “We’re making progress, but not enough Canadians have been vaccinated and most of them have only had one dose, so we’ve got a long ways to go in the vaccine program.” Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant

‘Stronger control’ needed as cases of COVID-19 variants soar, Canada’s top doctor says

Tougher measures are needed to combat a rising number of COVID-19 infections fuelled by more contagious variants, Canada’s top doctor said Friday, but she stopped short of saying what exactly those measures should be.

“The race between vaccines and variants is at a critical point,” said Dr. Theresa Tam told a briefing in Ottawa with government officials.

“It is clear that we need stronger control to combat variants of concern that are driving rapid epidemic growth in many areas of the country.”

Over the past week, Tam said there have been an average of more than 6,800 new COVID-19 cases reported daily and 30 deaths. She said the number of individuals in hospital intensive care units is 23 per cent higher than last week.

The number of new variant cases has more than doubled over the past week, Tam said. To date, about 25,000 cases of COVID-19 variants have been reported across the country, with about 90 per cent of those being the B. 117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

But while she said “stronger control” is needed, Tam was less clear when asked exactly what such measures might look like.

She said provinces “have to look at what works for their own context,” but with “less room for error” when it comes to trying to reduce the number of contacts between individuals. She expressed support for measures such as Ontario’s stay-at-home order, which is in effect for the next month.

“These are some of the types of measures that will reduce those contact rates,” Tam said. “I think that in many of the jurisdictions, chief medical officers have told me of course there are outbreaks in different settings, but a lot of them have also observed social gatherings.”

Ontario topped more than 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with more than 500 people in intensive care units, the highest number of ICU patients related to the virus since the pandemic began.

“What is our concern ... actually to me is the ICUs filling up, not just hospitalizations. There’s an absolute limit to ICU capacity,” Tam said, speaking of the situation across the country, and noting that while equipment can be added, it’s more difficult to quickly add the necessary staff.

“You cannot grow those things rapidly,” she said.

Millions of vaccine doses are expected to arrive in Canada in the coming weeks, as previously announced, including one million doses a week until the end of May of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, increasing to two million doses a week in June.

Further doses of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are also expected in the coming weeks, for a total of 44 million doses by the end of June.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she also hopes to have a delivery schedule by next week for the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with deliveries expected to begin at the end of this month.

“Don’t be complacent just because we have vaccines. Vaccines are not going to be able to help with flattening the curve immediately,” Tam said.

“We’re making progress, but not enough Canadians have been vaccinated and most of them have only had one dose, so we’ve got a long ways to go in the vaccine program.”

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant

Source : Toronto Star More   

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Confused about who can get the vaccine when? Well, it’s no wonder, given the complexity of the roll-out and sudden changes to it ….

If you are feeling like a mouse navigating a maze that changes shape almost by the hour — the parameters shifted this week for who can get a vaccine, when, where and which one — your confusion is justified.The average person should probably just sit tight for now. For Noah Fisk, 31, who has asthma and lives in a “hot spot” area of Toronto with a roommate who also has an underlying health condition, this week’s confusion began Wednesday with provincial announcements and spilled into Thursday.“What remains frustrating for me and one of my roommates — we’re both immunocompromised — we’re trying to figure out the vaccine roll-out,” said Fisk, “and it’s like game show tactics.”Premier Doug Ford, said Fisk, “gives you a little bit and we’ll give you the rest later. Like, tune in next episode. It’s unfortunate, because people like myself who are disabled and relying on the system are feeling really left behind. And we felt left behind this entire pandemic and there hasn’t been much assistance for us to begin with.“And now with the vaccine roll-out, I just feel like it’s very, very messy and disorganized. And now they’re saying, well, they’re going to do ages 18 and up, only in hot spots, and they’re going to have pop-up clinics.”For clarity on that, Fisk turned to Faisal Hassan, his NDP MPP for York South-Weston, and expects to learn more next week and, he hopes, get his first shot.Ray Lai, a software consultant in Markham who has teamed up with a group of volunteers to book vaccines for seniors, went very unexpectedly viral on Twitter in a thread of tweets in which he vented his frustration over what he calls the Ford government’s “policy by press conference” with “absolutely NO tangible information for anyone to look up online. “This leads people to jump to conclusions and get really excited at the prospect that they are next up in line. The truth is, @fordnation sends out a list of postal codes, but no actual plan to vaccinate them. Everyone sees this list, and thinks that they can start booking,” read Lai’s tweets.What happens then?Lai’s phone starts ringing with calls for help, and he finds himself having to explain “this confusing mess of a vaccination strategy.”“It’s certainly been an interesting couple of days,” Lai said when the Star reached him by phone Friday afternoon. “I didn’t realize that was going (to go viral). I like to yell into the void because no one really cares and apparently that kind of backfired on me, so, here we are.“There’s just massive confusion in every community, and Markham is just a small microcosm” of the larger problem, which, said Lai, are “action-related” announcements by the province with little or no details. Despite all the confusion, know that the sought after piece of “cheese” — in this case, a first jab of Moderna, Pfizer or AstraZeneca — is becoming within reach for more, including younger people, depending where you live.In Toronto, people aged 50 and up and living within 53 postal code areas identified by the province as priority areas can register for a shot through the city or a provincial vaccination information line (1-888-999-6488) as of 8 a.m. Friday. Residents outside Toronto should consult their own public health units and other postal codes identified by the province as priorities. The Star also has set up an interactive graphic, where you can search by your postal code.But with priority postal codes also comes imperfection and moral quandaries. The postal code boundaries being used — geographical areas defined by the first three digits of the postal code — capture many areas with a combination of low, middle and upper income households.If you’re 50, own a detached home in an area such as Parkdale and have a job where you can work from home, you qualify under well-meaning measures now being taken in an effort to get to the most vulnerable in that neighbourbhood. Conversely, if you are in the same boat and live in an overall better off neighbourhood such as Leslieville’s M4M forward sortation area (or FSA), you do not qualify under the latest plan, and neither do those aged 50-plus with lower-incomes in that area.The new measures suddenly introduced taken together with the planned phased roll-out of the vaccine are, indeed, confusing. But Kerry Bowman, professor at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, lauded the moves as an atempt to react to the latest evidence.“There is a lot of confusion, and I’ve been hearing it all day long,” said Bowman.“But I think it’s great that there is enough flex in the system that they could change direction so quickly.“And the reason they did it is emerging evidence, the variants are upon us, and epidemiological evidence is rising, there’s younger people, it’s highly infectious and we have to really focus on the people that are really moving around in society the most.”On the downside of this, “it really contributes to the absolute chaos of the whole roll-out,” said Bowman, who emerged from a cocoon after

Confused about who can get the vaccine when? Well, it’s no wonder, given the complexity of the roll-out and sudden changes to it ….

If you are feeling like a mouse navigating a maze that changes shape almost by the hour — the parameters shifted this week for who can get a vaccine, when, where and which one — your confusion is justified.

The average person should probably just sit tight for now.

For Noah Fisk, 31, who has asthma and lives in a “hot spot” area of Toronto with a roommate who also has an underlying health condition, this week’s confusion began Wednesday with provincial announcements and spilled into Thursday.

“What remains frustrating for me and one of my roommates — we’re both immunocompromised — we’re trying to figure out the vaccine roll-out,” said Fisk, “and it’s like game show tactics.”

Premier Doug Ford, said Fisk, “gives you a little bit and we’ll give you the rest later. Like, tune in next episode. It’s unfortunate, because people like myself who are disabled and relying on the system are feeling really left behind. And we felt left behind this entire pandemic and there hasn’t been much assistance for us to begin with.

“And now with the vaccine roll-out, I just feel like it’s very, very messy and disorganized. And now they’re saying, well, they’re going to do ages 18 and up, only in hot spots, and they’re going to have pop-up clinics.”

For clarity on that, Fisk turned to Faisal Hassan, his NDP MPP for York South-Weston, and expects to learn more next week and, he hopes, get his first shot.

Ray Lai, a software consultant in Markham who has teamed up with a group of volunteers to book vaccines for seniors, went very unexpectedly viral on Twitter in a thread of tweets in which he vented his frustration over what he calls the Ford government’s “policy by press conference” with “absolutely NO tangible information for anyone to look up online.

“This leads people to jump to conclusions and get really excited at the prospect that they are next up in line. The truth is, @fordnation sends out a list of postal codes, but no actual plan to vaccinate them. Everyone sees this list, and thinks that they can start booking,” read Lai’s tweets.

What happens then?

Lai’s phone starts ringing with calls for help, and he finds himself having to explain “this confusing mess of a vaccination strategy.”

“It’s certainly been an interesting couple of days,” Lai said when the Star reached him by phone Friday afternoon. “I didn’t realize that was going (to go viral). I like to yell into the void because no one really cares and apparently that kind of backfired on me, so, here we are.

“There’s just massive confusion in every community, and Markham is just a small microcosm” of the larger problem, which, said Lai, are “action-related” announcements by the province with little or no details.

Despite all the confusion, know that the sought after piece of “cheese” — in this case, a first jab of Moderna, Pfizer or AstraZeneca — is becoming within reach for more, including younger people, depending where you live.

In Toronto, people aged 50 and up and living within 53 postal code areas identified by the province as priority areas can register for a shot through the city or a provincial vaccination information line (1-888-999-6488) as of 8 a.m. Friday. Residents outside Toronto should consult their own public health units and other postal codes identified by the province as priorities.

The Star also has set up an interactive graphic, where you can search by your postal code.

But with priority postal codes also comes imperfection and moral quandaries. The postal code boundaries being used — geographical areas defined by the first three digits of the postal code — capture many areas with a combination of low, middle and upper income households.

If you’re 50, own a detached home in an area such as Parkdale and have a job where you can work from home, you qualify under well-meaning measures now being taken in an effort to get to the most vulnerable in that neighbourbhood. Conversely, if you are in the same boat and live in an overall better off neighbourhood such as Leslieville’s M4M forward sortation area (or FSA), you do not qualify under the latest plan, and neither do those aged 50-plus with lower-incomes in that area.

The new measures suddenly introduced taken together with the planned phased roll-out of the vaccine are, indeed, confusing. But Kerry Bowman, professor at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, lauded the moves as an atempt to react to the latest evidence.

“There is a lot of confusion, and I’ve been hearing it all day long,” said Bowman.

“But I think it’s great that there is enough flex in the system that they could change direction so quickly.

“And the reason they did it is emerging evidence, the variants are upon us, and epidemiological evidence is rising, there’s younger people, it’s highly infectious and we have to really focus on the people that are really moving around in society the most.”

On the downside of this, “it really contributes to the absolute chaos of the whole roll-out,” said Bowman, who emerged from a cocoon after teaching classes Thursday afternoon to a dose of that day’s announcements.

“So much has shifted so very, very quickly that one problem is that people don’t really know exactly where they stand right now,” said Bowman, who specializes in vaccine equity and inclusivity. “And the second problem is that I think it erodes confidence. It might create the impression for people that they are kind of winging it and not sure what to do.”

Bowman hopes the province sticks with the “spirit” of its phased roll-out of the vaccines and gets into the higher risk neighbourhoods with enough supply “to pull this off.”

Barry Pakes, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said there remains “some lack of clarity on how health units are meant to approach these hot spot areas with insufficient vaccine to actually cover them.”

That said, the strategy to “target risk areas is certainly sound, but there are millions of people in those priority FSAs in Toronto, Peel and York alone,” Pakes said in an email.

“Most health units are going to be refining their approach in those areas, restricting to age 50-plus or 45-plus in those areas to start, not 18-plus.”

Pakes’ advice: “The average person should just sit tight for the next few days. The limitation remains vaccine supply, but there are millions of doses coming before the end of April, so it’s coming.”

Even Toronto Mayor John Tory made note of the vaccine confusion and likely feels your frustration — and may also share your current length of hair. Tory, 66, has been eligible for a while and has “been on all kinds of waiting lists,” he said on CBC’s Metro Morning Friday.

Later asked by the Star if the inability of Toronto’s mayor to get a vaccine appointment is an indictment of the sign-up system, Tory said he didn’t think so.

Tory said he has been “very, very conscious” to not jump the queue. He noted that his age means he’s now eligible to get an appointment for Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at a city-run clinic, but he has chosen to get the AstraZeneca jab to show people he’s convinced it’s safe.

“When I signed up to go on these waiting lists, I did it myself on my own phone. I sat on the waiting list for some period of time and then ran into somebody who told me that, because of cancelled appointments, they end up having walk-in doses every day if you show up at the right time …,” Tory said.

“Eventually I got some time and got an appointment — you just phone and phone and phone and you eventually find (an appointment) that’s been cancelled or that somebody else had. I’ve now found an appointment and I’m going to go and have it done. That’s just the way the system works.”

Noah Fisk expects people in his “busy, busy” neighbourhood will be “scrambling and wanting to get this vaccine” now, and “I don’t blame anybody. But I’m mostly concerned about the disabled and the low-income community, where there’s limited access to all of this, and I feel like none of that is being addressed.”

Jim Rankin is a Star reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @Jleerankin

Source : Toronto Star More   

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