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COVID-19 could make transition to standard time smoother, say experts

ADINA BRESGE, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Oct 30th, 2020

Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any darker, the end of daylight time this weekend will make dusk come one hour earlier.

Much of Canada is set to turn back the clocks at 2 a.m. on Sunday, giving people an extra hour of sleep in exchange for darker evenings as winter sets in.

The return to standard time is reigniting the debate about whether the rest of Canada should follow Yukon in moving to a singular year-round time setting, as legislators in several provinces consider doing away with the seasonal ritual.

But experts say “falling back” may feel a little different this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our usual schedules.

Some professors predict the time-warping nature of the crisis could ease the adjustment, while a permanent-time proponent says the one-hour shift will compound the discombobulation of life under lockdown.

While the twice-yearly tradition continues to be a source of fervid contention, University of Toronto medical professor Donald Redelmeier says one thing is as certain as the sun rises: We have bigger worries.

“The daylight savings time effect, if it exists, is going to be astonishingly small this year,” said Redelmeier.

“All those adverse effects are tiny compared to the huge hassles that have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Many of the concerns about time toggling revolve around how it impacts circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock that regulates sleep-wake cycles, which is largely governed by exposure to natural light.

Critics say that shifting the times of sunrise and sunset throws this biological system out of sync.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a position paper this month pushing for a permanent switch to daylight time, citing studies that link the clock reset to public health and safety risks ranging from mood changes to an uptick in traffic collisions.

But Redelmeier, a senior scientist at health research organization ICES, predicts that the putative negative side-effects of the time change will be eclipsed, if not alleviated, by the global upheaval of the pandemic.

As far as sleep habits are concerned, Redelmeier said the work-from-home lifestyle has probably been a boon to chronic snooze-button hitters, allowing many workers to catch up on their beauty rest rather than plodding through grooming routines and sitting in rush-hour traffic.

The researcher at Sunnybrook Hospital, which is home to Canada’s busiest trauma centre, is skeptical of the contention that the switch to standard time reduces road safety by extending dark evenings, which is linked to higher risks of crashes. He points to a 2017 paper in the British Medical Journal suggesting that the academic literature on the issue is inconclusive at best.

But taking the claim at face value, Redelmeier said this supposed short-term impact on crashes would be negligible given reported plunges in traffic levels since the pandemic began, which at least in Toronto, has led to a dramatic drop in pedestrian deaths.

But a movement to keep the clocks fixed is picking up steam in Canada after Yukon moved to permanent daylight time in March. Parts of Saskatchewan and Nunavut have also settled on one time year-round.

Lawmakers in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario put forward proposals to stay on daylight time, provided that their neighbouring provinces or U.S. states follow suit. Public surveys in the West suggest there’s widespread support for the measure, and some advocates say COVID-19 fatigue could solidify that sentiment for many Canadians.

“People have been fed up with the time switch for a long time,” said Wendy Hall, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia’s school of nursing.

“When you’re already dealing with COVID, and you’re already dealing with lots of stress in your life, having one more stressor, which is the time shift, is really difficult for people.”

Hall said she helped conduct a small survey of parents of children with insomnia suggesting that some kids are sleeping more under lockdown, while others are struggling to get some shut-eye.

She expects these disruptions will only become more acute when standard time ushers in early sunsets, potentially exacerbating seasonal downswings in mood.

But Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at University of Toronto, believes a bit more morning sunshine may be welcome given the gloomy state of affairs.

“We already have to wake up to the realization that COVID is still here,” said Joordens. “A little bit of brightness could give us a little bit of a push.”

As COVID-19 has eliminated many of our normal routines, Joordens said the change in light patterns could provide a natural sense of structure by making people feel more energized in the morning and ready for bed at an earlier hour.

These effects would wear off in a few weeks, Joordens said. But in these troublesome times, he reckons an extra hour of rest couldn’t hurt as Canadians brace for a winter of contagion-fuelled discontent.

“Who knows how far along we are on this marathon, but it has an end, and we’re running towards that end,” said Joordens. “What we need during all this COVID is to keep time.”

Man rushed to hospital after possible assault in Rexdale

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Oct 30th, 2020

A man is now in stable condition after possibly being assaulted in Rexdale.

Officers were called Mount Olive and Silverstone Drives just before 7:30 p.m. to reports of an assault.

The victim was found unconscious on the scene and was taken to hospital in serious condition.

Police say it appears the man suffered a head injury.

No further details have been released at this point.

Experts divided on letting kids go out on Halloween due to COVID-19 risk

MELISSA COUTO ZUBER, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Oct 30th, 2020

As COVID-19 case numbers continue to creep up in much of the country, some parents are feeling spooked about letting their children trick-or-treat on Halloween.

Should they carry on with the door-to-door tradition, or find a different way to celebrate the eerie annual holiday?

While some infectious disease pediatricians say now is not the time for trick-or-treating, especially in COVID hot spots, others contend that the outdoor nature of the activity makes it fairly low-risk.

Dr. Anna Banerji, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health, says trick-or-treating should “probably be cancelled this year.”

“We’ve … shut down gyms and restaurants (in parts of Ontario and Quebec) to try to control COVID,” she said. “So I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Areas with few COVID cases will be safer for trick-or-treaters, Banerji says, but having contact with multiple people, regardless of how brief those interactions are, can carry higher risk in cities with larger concentrations of the virus.

Banerji says it will be tough to keep kids — excited to see their dressed-up counterparts — from congregating on driveways and sidewalks, which will make it harder for parents accompanying them to maintain a safe distance as well.

“In general it’s not high-risk when you’re just walking by someone on the street, but when you’ve got a whole bunch of kids and they’re walking together, the risk might go up,” Banerji said. “And the adults are there too. And they’re being exposed to all these different kids.”

Dr. Martha Fulford of McMaster Children’s Hospital says the risk of COVID spreading through trick-or-treaters is “very small.”

The outdoor element helps mitigate danger, Fulford says, adding that keeping distance from groups on sidewalks should be easy enough by walking around them.

Still, she suggests safeguards to minimize potential transmission, like getting trick-or-treaters to stick to their own neighbourhoods and making sure kids clean their hands before indulging in their bounty.

Homeowners wary of contracting the virus from costumed kiddos on their porches can find creative ways to hand out candy as well.

Fulford suggests candy handlers sit outside, if weather permits, to avoid having too many fingers pushing doorbells. She doesn’t suggest leaving a bulk, self-serve bowl outside, however, since having “multiple tiny hands” reaching in makes that a high-touch surface.

“Use tongs. Get some kind of dispensing thing or build a little slide where you pop the candy in a tube and it pops out the other end for the kids,” Fulford said.

“We’ve learned COVID generally is not well-transmitted on surfaces. We don’t think there’s a problem when we go grocery shopping or anything like that. So sealed candies is not a problem.”

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said earlier this month that trick-or-treating could proceed as long as participants follow physical distancing and other safety protocols. She mentioned handing out treats on a hockey stick, or using pool noodles to separate kids from homeowners at their front doors.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there’s no need to shelve trick-or-treating completely, recommending children stay two metres apart and wear cloth masks that can be incorporated into their costumes. The organization says a costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask, but layering of masks can cause breathing difficulties and isn’t advised.

Fulford says face coverings aren’t necessary for children outdoors, but adults accompanying kids on their candy quest can wear them if they’re struggling to maintain distance from other groups. If homeowners handing out candy feel safer wearing face coverings, they should do that as well, she adds.

Banerji, meanwhile, says all parties involved in trick-or-treating should be wearing face coverings. But an even better strategy, she said may be to not take part at all.

“For the first Halloween in my life, we’re not going to do it,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s safe.”

Fulford worries too many households will go that route, leaving kids disappointed.

She says kids have “borne the brunt of pandemic restrictions,” from school closures back in March to the subsequenet cancellations of everything from team sports to in-person birthday parties.

“It’s an easy default is to say ‘no Halloween’ but those who suffer the consequences are our kids,” Fulford said. “To the best of our ability, I really do not think we should be canceling childhood.

“What are we teaching our children (by cancelling Halloween)? We’re teaching them to be scared to have social interactions and we’re not teaching resilience. So I worry.”

Dr. Nicole Racine, a child psychology expert with the University of Calgary, says kids are “creatures of habit” who can find routine and meaning in annual traditions like Halloween.

So we have to be careful not to take too many of those shared experiences away from them, she said.

Racine suggests finding ways to replace experiences like trick-or-treating, such as holding a candy scavenger hunt within your own household, rather than canceling them outright.

“It’s about how we can reframe things for kids so that there’s still something to look forward to, still something to enjoy, and still something that can be quite meaningful to them,” Racine said.

“It’s going to be a balance of thinking about (limiting) risk to keep other members of our society safe while still being able to enjoy some of the social activities involved with being a kid.”

Fatal collision shuts down Hwy. 401 westbound express lanes near Markham Road

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Oct 30th, 2020

One man has died after a collision in the westbound express lanes of Highway 401 near Markham Road Thursday evening.

MarkhProvincial police closed the westbound express lanes between Morningside and Markham Road due to the crash, but it has since reopened.

There are no further details about the crash available at this time.

Traffic spotters tell 680 News they have been stuck in the area for almost an hour and a half with no movement around 9 p.m. The highway reopened around 11:30 p.m.

Vaughan wedding linked to 44 COVID-19 cases

Michael Ranger | posted Thursday, Oct 29th, 2020

Health officials are confirming a COVID-19 outbreak stemming from a wedding in Vaughan.

In a release on Wednesday, York Region Public Health say they have confirmed 44 cases linked to the large gathering. They say over 100 people attended the event and anyone who attended is facing a high risk of exposure.

Over half the cases are from Peel Region. The rest of the cases are spread throughout the province, though most are in the GTA.

  • Peel Region – 31 cases
  • York Region – 5 cases
  • Halton Region – 3 cases
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph – 2 cases
  • Toronto – 1 case
  • Region of Waterloo – 1 case
  • Simcoe Muskoka – 1 case

 

Health officials were notified of the first case on Monday.

The wedding took place over two days at Avani Event Centre in the area of Jane and Langstaff. All the cases have been linked to wedding-related events from Wednesday, Oct. 14 and Sunday, Oct. 18.

Both events took place when York Region was under stage 3 restrictions. The region moved to modified stage 2 restrictions on Oct. 19. Modified stage 2 limits indoor gatherings to 10 and outdoor gatherings to 25 people.

Anyone who attended is being asked to call the public health unit where they reside and to self-isolate for 14 days.

Health units with confirmed cases are continuing to conduct contact tracing and York Region Public Health says their investigation is ongoing.

Shots fired overnight near Jane and Finch

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Oct 29th, 2020

Toronto police are investigating after shots rang out overnight in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

Emergency crews were called Blaney Crescent around midnight on Thursday after reports that multiple gunshots were heard in the area.

No injuries have been reported but a window was reportedly shot out.

Police said they’re searching for a grey Toyota Camry that was seen fleeing the area eastbound on Blaney to northbound Picaro Drive.

City council approves motion asking the province to cap food delivery fees

MOMIN QURESHI, NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Oct 29th, 2020

Toronto city council has voted unanimously in favour of a motion that asks the province to put a cap on fees that delivery apps are charging restaurants.

The use of food delivery apps has become increasingly popular since the start of the pandemic. They serve as a convenient way to get your favourite meal dropped off at your door with minimal contact.

But some of these apps charge around a 30% fee, which is hurting a lot of restaurants that are struggling to survive as a result of the pandemic.

RELATED: City councillor wants to see a cap put on delivery fees charged to Toronto restaurants

Mayor John Tory said he would like to see something done. He hopes the companies themselves will willingly reduce their fees.

He says it makes no sense that the food delivered ends up being a loss for the restaurants.

“I think these companies that get their business, whose customers are the very restaurants who are suffering, should be stepping up forward as a matter of good corporate citizenship and saying their going to give them a break for a period of time,” said Tory.

Councillor Michael Ford put forth the motion, and thinks it is a step in the right direction. “I think this motion is a piece of the puzzle that we all have to be looking at,” Ford said.

Premier Ford believes those fees are too high as well. He hopes the companies behind the apps will lower the fees and says he is willing to talk to Mayor Tory about it.

RELATED: Toronto city council votes to extend outdoor dining program through the winter

Ontario government expected to release new COVID-19 projections

The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Oct 29th, 2020

The Ontario government is expected to release new COVID-19 projections on Thursday.

Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday the modelling will show the number of new daily infections moving “in the right direction.”

The figures are expected to be released this afternoon at a news conference involving several health officials, including the province’s top public health doctor.

The previous projections, released late last month, showed the province recording 1,000 new daily cases by mid-October.

Ontario passed that threshold last weekend but the numbers have since dropped.

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