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What does ‘reaching the peak’ in the coronavirus pandemic mean?

MICHELLE MCQUIGGE, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Apr 22nd, 2020

The latest round of government projections related to the COVID-19 pandemic includes an increasingly common phrase — reaching the peak. But what exactly does that mean? Some experts weigh in:

What does it mean to reach a peak in a pandemic?

Infectious disease and statistical modelling specialists say to reach the peak in a pandemic curve means that the number of new cases has begun to level off rather than continuing on a sharp upward trajectory. Such a scenario is playing out this week in Ontario, where public health officials said the province was experiencing the peak of the outbreak in the broader community despite registering some sharp single-day spikes in the number of new cases. The peak has not yet arrived in the province’s long-term care system, where roughly half of all cases and deaths have occurred.

“Peaks are not a single day,” said Steini Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, as he presented the province’s latest projections on Monday. “They’re not a nice single sort of spike. They can be a little bit bumpy, they can be prolonged for a period of time, particularly given public health interventions.”

Brown said pandemic curves are usually symmetrical in nature — a sharp increase of cases is followed by the plateau or peak, which then gives way to a decline in new diagnoses.

 

Where in Canada is that actually happening?

While Ontario may be experiencing the peak of community transmission right now, several provinces are already ahead of the game. Public health officials in British Columbia said last week that they had succeeded in flattening the curve, meaning they’re past the peak of new COVID-19 cases. Provinces and territories such as Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Yukon are posting single-digit increases each day, while New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador have gone several days in a row without any new cases at all.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has said the national curve is bending but has yet to flatten. Those figures are still fuelled by data out of Quebec and Ontario, the epicentres of the national outbreak. The premier of Quebec, which has recorded more than 20,100 of Canada’s roughly 38,000 cases, has said the peak has lightly been reached outside of the province’s hard-hit long-term care homes.

 

This is all good news, right?

Yes and no. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases physician and scientist with the Toronto General Hospital, says it’s very encouraging to see the rate of new infections begin to level off. But he says peak times also promise to place the maximum strain on the health-care system, as cases continue to mount at a pace not seen during earlier stages of the outbreak.

Jianhong Wu, distinguished research professor of mathematics at York University, said other risks come with pandemic peaks.

“At these times, the level of infections is highest,” he said. “The number of cases is not necessarily the number of infections.”

Wu noted that disparity is even more evident in parts of the country with lower testing levels, noting those provinces with higher capacity will also uncover more cases.

During a peak period, he said, Canadians stand a higher chance of contracting the virus.

 

Does this mean normal life can resume soon?

No. Both Wu and Bogoch said physical distancing measures are more important than ever during peak times in order to ensure the number of cases begins to decline as expected.

“Imagine you’re in a car and you put your foot on the gas and are driving faster and faster,” Bogoch said. “When you get onto the highway and you’re going 100 kilometres an hour, that’s not the time to open the door and jump out of the car. You have to actually slow down.”

 

What are the most useful stats to keep an eye on?

The many facts and figures presented in government briefings are all valuable in tracking Canada’s response to COVID-19, according to both Bogoch and Wu. But for a member of the public wanting only to focus on the highlights, they agree tracking the growth rate of cases over time should provide an adequate snapshot. Both caution against focusing on single-day stats and suggest looking at the overall trend to see if cases are climbing, peaking or declining over time.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2020.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Advocates worry about coronavirus putting more kids at risk for abuse at home

MIA RABSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Apr 22nd, 2020

Reports to authorities about suspected child abuse or neglect are down as much as 40 per cent in some regions but child advocates say it’s not because fewer kids are at risk.

Daphne Penrose, Manitoba’s advocate for children and youth, said the anxiety, financial toll and physical stresses imposed by the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders, means families need more help than ever from a system that is less able to provide it.

“It does appear to be almost the perfect storm,” said Penrose, who is the watchdog and advocate for child and family services in Manitoba.

Sara Austin, the founder and CEO of Children First Canada, said they have seen reports of child abuse to authorities across Canada fall between 30 and 40 per cent since the crisis began in mid-March. She said there was a small spike in reports in the first few days but since then, the numbers have gone down everywhere.

“It’s very worrisome,” said Austin.

“We don’t have any reason to believe child abuse is going down. It’s that those who are trusted adults in the lives of children no longer see them.”

Austin said when schools are open, teachers usually account for nearly one-third of all reports of suspected abuse to authorities. It’s not just teachers who are absent from kids’ lives these days. Doctors are seeing fewer patients, often only for emergencies. Daycare workers, after-school activity co-ordinators, religious leaders, even grandparents, friends and neighbours — all part of the “safety net” for kids — are being forced to limit contact.

Penrose said the services that families under stress often turn to, such as child welfare agencies, mental health supports, and respite workers, also are less able to help, with their own staff restricted by physical distancing rules.

“When families can’t access the services they need, they get into crisis,” she said.

Evidence of the stress on kids is seen by the higher demand for services from Kids Help Phone, the charity that offers phone and text support to kids who need support. In March, the organization reported a 350 per cent increase in texts for help from youth.

The federal government injected another $7.5 million to Kids Help Phone to try and aid its efforts to respond. Austin said Ottawa needs to do more to co-ordinate a national approach to child safety efforts.

Austin said her organization is also encouraging provincial education ministers to ensure teachers are doing what they can to maintain contact with kids, particularly the ones they may have been concerned about before this started.

The risk to kids is exacerbated by a jump in online activities for kids, many of whom are now on the internet for school. The Internet Child Exploitation unit of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team reported this week that investigative referrals for online child exploitation were more than double the normal number in March. The unit receives most of its referrals from the RCMP, which works with internet service providers and social media sites to track suspected exploitation online.

On Monday, the team said it had received 243 reports of online child exploitation in Alberta. The monthly average over the last two years is about 110 reports.

Austin said anybody who has any concern about a child’s well-being should not be afraid to report it.

Toronto repurposing decommissioned TTC buses to use for emergency transport

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Apr 22nd, 2020

The City of Toronto says it is repurposing decommissioned TTC buses to use for emergency transport.

Five TTC buses will be able to transport ambulatory and stretcher-bound patients, including those on ventilators.

Three vehicles have already be completed and are expected to be on the road soon while modifications on the other two are ongoing.

They will be driven by TTC drivers with three paramedics on board each bus and will be able to fit three stretcher-bound patients or eight to ten ambulatory patients.

A release from the city says they will be used for a variety of reasons including inter-facility transfers or shelter for facility evacuations.

Mayor John Tory said in a statement he was very proud of the innovation and cooperation involved in this project.

“This project by the TTC and Paramedics, brought together at wartime speed, responds to an urgent need and will help the ill and vulnerable in Toronto immediately,” said Tory.

Feds expected to unveil more emergency aid for students, young Canadians

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Apr 22nd, 2020

The federal government is expected to announce Wednesday more significant financial support for students and other young Canadians struggling to stay afloat and find jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new measures are intended to target support at young people who have fallen through the cracks of other emergency financial assistance.

Some students, for instance, have complained that they don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

It provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks to Canadians who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and had an income of at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months — criteria that doesn’t apply to many students.

Today’s measures are in addition to some steps the federal government has already taken to specifically help young people weather the health crisis.

It has put a six-month, interest-free moratorium on student loan repayments.

It has also bolstered the Canada Summer Jobs program in a bid to encourage employers to hire young workers for essential jobs.

Employers this year will receive a subsidy of up to 100 per cent of the provincial or territorial minimum hourly wage for each youth employee — up from the usual wage subsidy of 50 per cent.

The government has also expanded the program to include part-time workers and extended the this year’s employment period to the end of February 2021.

As well, the government has provided $20 million to support young entrepreneurs who are facing challenges due to the pandemic.

Today’s announcement of additional financial assistance comes as the federal government is poised to release Friday its fiscal update for February — including a deficit number that is bound to look positively microscopic compared to the red ink the government has been piling up since mid-March when the pandemic forced the economy to a virtual standstill.

As of Tuesday, Ottawa has shovelled $107 billion into financial assistance for individuals, employers and hard-hit groups and sectors of the economy. It has also committed $85 billion in loans and tax deferrals.

South Korea looking into reports about Kim Jong Un’s health

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS VIA CP | posted Tuesday, Apr 21st, 2020

SEOUL, Republic of Korea — The South Korean government on Tuesday was looking into U.S. media reports saying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was in fragile condition after surgery.

Officials from South Korea’s Unification Ministry and National Intelligence Service said they couldn’t immediately confirm the report. CNN cited an anonymous U.S. official who said Kim was in “grave danger” after an unspecified surgery.

The Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said it couldn’t confirm another report by Daily NK, which cited anonymous sources to report that Kim was recovering from heart surgery in the capital Pyongyang and that his condition was improving.

Speculation about Kim’s health was raised after he missed the celebration of his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung on April 15.

More needs to be done to protect Ontario’s must vulnerable from coronavirus: nurses association

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 21st, 2020

The CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario says new coronavirus modelling shows that the province must do more to help its most vulnerable.

Doris Grinspun says long-term care residents, the homeless and Indigenous communities need more protection in the fight against COVID-19.

She says the association also continues to call for increased access to personal protective equipment for workers in long-term care homes.

The spread of COVID-19 may be peaking in Ontario communities, but not in the province’s long-term care homes.

The government released new numbers on Monday showing cases in those settings continue to climb.

The province has recorded at least 127 outbreaks in congregate care settings as of Monday.

But public health officials say they expect new measures aimed at curbing the spread in such settings to start driving the numbers down in the coming weeks.

Ottawa to announce more financial support for vulnerable Canadians

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 21st, 2020

The federal government is expected to unveil today more financial support for vulnerable Canadians struggling to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Poor, disabled, homeless and elderly people are among those who’ve been particularly hard hit by the health, social and economic ravages of the deadly virus as Canadians abide by orders to keep physical distance from one another and all but essential businesses are shut down.

Today’s measures are on top of previously announced moves to provide financial support to the homeless, women’s shelters, children’s counselling and local organizations that provide practical support to seniors, such as delivering groceries or medication.

The government is also expected to provide more details today about the timing and roll-out of the massive $73-billion wage subsidy program.

Among other things, the government is expected to provide details to businesses on how to apply for the subsidy.

Officials told the Commons finance committee last week that online applications are to open April 27 and they expect to have processed 90 per cent of claims by May 4, with payments starting to roll out later that week.

The subsidy is retroactive to March 15 and available to companies that lost 15 per cent of their revenue in March or 30 per cent in April or May. The federal government will pay eligible companies 75 per cent of the first $58,700 earned by each employee, up to $847 per week for up to 12 weeks.

The government is hoping the wage subsidy will prompt companies to rehire vast swaths of the millions of Canadian workers who have asked for emergency federal aid since the pandemic brought the global economy to a virtual standstill.

Death toll could rise in Nova Scotia as investigation into rampage continues

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 21st, 2020

The death toll from a killing rampage in Nova Scotia could rise on Tuesday.

Nineteen people were confirmed dead as of yesterday following Sunday’s tragedy, but police expect the number of victims to go up.

Police say the 16 crime scenes include five burned buildings where it is feared additional bodies will be found inside.

RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather said he expects the number of victims to increase in the days ahead.

The murder and arson rampage finally ended when active shooter Gabriel Wortman was shot dead Sunday by RCMP officers in Enfield, N.S., next to the gas pumps at a service station.

The RCMP opted to use its Twitter account to provide updates during the active shooter investigation.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the province’s emergency alert system wasn’t used because no request was received.

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