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Hospitals, long-term care homes have little room for second-wave surge, inquiry hears

LIAM CASEY, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Oct 23rd, 2020

Hospitals and long-term care homes are nearly at capacity and won’t be able to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients during the second wave of the pandemic, an independent commission has heard.

While there are plenty of physical spaces set to handle an influx in patients, which include many field hospitals ready to go, there is no one to staff them, the Ontario Hospital Association told the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission earlier this month.

That leaves hospitals across the province with only one quick solution, which they have dubbed the “dimmer switch” — shutting down elective surgeries once again to free up more beds and staff, the association said.

The commission,  which is investigating how the novel virus spread in the long-term care system, isn’t open to the public, but transcripts of testimony are posted online days later. The hospital association testified on Oct. 5, and the transcript was posted two weeks later.

Barbara Collins, the CEO of Humber River Hospital, testified that about 5,000 hospital patients in the province could be transferred to long-term care homes to continue their recovery. But those homes, she said, have no room, partially due to a government rule that limits use of three- and four-bedroom wards, which proved deadly during the first wave of the pandemic.

“We survived last time, largely because we cancelled surgery,” Collins told the commission.

“It is being spoken about as a dimmer switch this time.”

That option, which led to a backlog of nearly 200,000 surgeries in Ontario, remains the best — and potentially only — option for hospitals to quickly free up space and staff to handle a rush of COVID-19 patients, she said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the province focused on creating space in hospitals, but the COVID-19 surge occurred in long-term care homes, the commission has previously heard.

In addition to cancelling surgeries, hospitals moved as many patients as possible to long-term care facilities in February and March, said Gillian Kernaghan, the CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ont.

That set the stage for the novel coronavirus to tear through the homes with deadly effects.

“It meant that when long-term care started to see cases with COVID, they had no places to isolate people because they were full,” Kernaghan said.

Many long-term care homes were overrun by COVID-19, especially in March and April before the province finally launched its action plan to deal with the catastrophic outbreaks in nursing homes.

To date, 1,910 long-term care residents have died of the disease.

Now, with elective surgeries back on, hospitals are near capacity, said Anthony Dale, the association’s president.

And this time around, the health-care system faces another crisis: staffing.

“The challenge is that long-term care homes, hospitals, home care, are all facing human resource shortages right now, and so it is not actually the physical capacity we are worried about right now,” Kernaghan said.

She said the province’s directive to only allow staff to work with one employer has also contributed to the human resource crisis in long-term care homes.

“We probably had 10 to 12 homes that we worked with very actively every day for whom staffing crisis was precipitated by the single-employer directive, and more commonly the person picked the hospital to work in because of lots of reasons,” Kernaghan said.

“And this is when it became somewhat ridiculous, because what we then had to do when we had a staffing crisis, we went to the hospital. They sent the same staff member back technically as a hospital staff member to solve the problem in the long-term care home.”

Dale said he would like the province to rethink it’s single-employer edict.

“Staffing shortages, as the members have said, remains a very significant issue, particularly in long-term care, so we do recommend a thoughtful re-evaluation of the universal application of the single-employer policy,” he said.

Dale also warned that the current setup to fight COVID-19 in Ontario, which relies heavily on hospitals and their staffs, is “precarious.”

“There is a huge amount of risk uploaded into the system, and with our colleagues in long-term care facing the challenges that they are, even with the assistance of hospitals, this is quite a precarious situation, and it is why we have been so aggressive in calling for new public health measures to stop community spread,” Dale said.

There are “historic high numbers” of patients now in hospital who do not need to be there, but have nowhere else to recover, he said.

Kernaghan said there is no ability to ramp up staffing at both hospitals and long-term care homes in rural Ontario, partially because there is no child-care help.

“In many of our rural regions, there is no staff to hire,” Kernaghan said. “It is not for lack of trying, I can assure you.”

The staffing challenge in cities is different, she said, with many staff having to stay home if their child is sick with COVID-19 or have been exposed to the disease.

Study shows novel coronavirus can live on skin for 9 hours, but what does that mean?

MELISSA COUTO ZUBER | posted Thursday, Oct 22nd, 2020

A recent study suggests the novel coronavirus can live on human skin for up to nine hours, but experts say those findings aren’t as alarming as they sound.

The study by Japanese researchers, published earlier this month in the science journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, looked at how long viruses can survive on human skin based on samples collected from cadavers about a day after death.

The findings suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, can remain active for 9.04 hours – nearly five times longer than the survival time of the pathogen that causes the flu.

The study also showed that an 80 per cent ethanol-based sanitizer can kill the novel coronavirus in a matter of 15 seconds.

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist in Winnipeg, says that’s her main take-away from the study.

“It’s an important public health message to remind people that even though the virus can last basically a full workday in a lab setting, you can quickly get rid of it if you just wash your hands,” she said.

“It’s not about panicking and having a full-body shower every time you get home. It’s about remembering that if the virus is on your hand and you wipe your nose or put your fingers in your mouth, that’s where the opportunity is to get infected.”

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, says people are less likely to contract COVID-19 from touching a surface than from having close contact with an infected person.

He suspects the reason for that has to do with the viral dose on surfaces versus that in droplets or aerosols. Coming into contact with small viral load on a surface likely won’t result in a severe infection, he says, adding that our bodies may fight off a very mild case without us even realizing we have it.

“I don’t think (this study) is anything we need to be too concerned about,” Furness said. “If it were, clinically we would be seeing that touch matters a lot more. And we’re not.”

Furness says public health strategies over the last few months have emphasized mask-wearing and avoiding gatherings “because they matter more.”

However, even someone who’s asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic can transmit the virus, so Furness says it’s still important to wash your hands on a regular basis.

“I don’t want anyone thinking that touch doesn’t matter at all. You can still pick up the virus from touch,” Furness said. “And you can pick up a different virus during COVID that weakens your body, and then if you do get COVID you can have a worse outcome.”

The experts say it’s also important to remember that studies done in lab settings, under perfectly controlled conditions, don’t necessarily translate to the outside world.

Carr said the study in Japan was done in warm, humid conditions, which the virus is known to thrive in.

Using skin samples from immobile cadavers could also play a role in how long the virus remained on that surface, she added.

“My understanding is that the virus is relatively fragile,” Carr said. “So I don’t know how long it would be detectable on your hand in a real-life situation where you’re moving around.”

Plenty of lab studies have been conducted since the pandemic began showing how long the novel coronavirus can survive on different surfaces. Another recent one found the virus could live on banknotes for up to 28 days.

But Furness says to take that with a grain of salt.

“It’s almost like a little perverse competition to see who can keep COVID alive the longest, and I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “Saying it can survive on a banknote for several days – OK, when the banknote is in the dark not being disturbed, and with perfect humidity and so on and so forth. That’s when it becomes a bit dodgy.”

And detecting the virus on a surface isn’t the same as determining whether it’s strong enough to infect someone, Carr warned.

“That’s where we have a lack of knowledge,” she said. “It could be (detectable) for nine hours, six hours, 12 hours, but again the main take-away for me is how quickly it can be eradicated if you just wash your hands.”

For Furness, the interesting part of the Japan study was its comparison to the regular flu virus, which lasted on average slightly less than two hours on skin surfaces.

He says that may provide a potential clue as to why the novel coronavirus is so transmissible.

“It sheds a little bit of light on the fact that this is a tough customer, that this is a relatively hardy virus compared to flu,” he said. “And it would help explain why this is so much more contagious than something like the flu.”

3 charged for drug possession, identity theft after downtown traffic stop

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Oct 22nd, 2020

Toronto police say they’ve arrested three people who are facing drug and fraud related charges after stopping a car to check if the driver was impaired by drugs.

Officers pulled over the car in the Fort York Boulevard and Telegram Mews area around 7 p.m. on Monday.

They found three people in the car and a large amount of cannabis and money was seized from the vehicle. Police also found and seized altered duplicates of legal identification documents.

Police say the duplicate documents have been used to defraud people of over $40,000.

Brandy Kinghan, 43, from Stayner is facing multiple charges including nine counts of forgery and six counts of identity theft. Police have released a photo of Kinghan(see above).

The other two people in the car are facing several counts of drug-related charges.

Abdirahman Dore, 31, from Waterloo and Zackery Sheard, 22, from Sarnia are both charged with possession of proceeds of crime over $5,000, possession for the purpose of trafficking and possession of Cannabis Over 30 grams. Sheard is facing additional charges for possession of illegal substances and failure to comply with probation.

They appeared in court on Wednesday and police say the investigation is ongoing.

FBI says Iran and Russia have taken ‘specific actions’ to influence U.S. elections

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Oct 22nd, 2020

The Federal Bureau of Investigation says Iran and Russia have taken “specific actions” to influence public opinion with regards to the U.S. elections.

In a press conference on Wednesday night, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said some voter registration information has been acquired by both countries.

“This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion,” he said.

Ratcliffe said Iran has already sent spoof emails “designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.”

He added that Iran has been distributing other content that includes a video that implies that people could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.

“This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true,” said Ratcliffe, calling the actions “desperate attempts by desperate adversaries.”

Ratcliffe said they have not seen similar actions from Russia but are prepared for any eventuality and assured the American people their votes are secure.

FBI Director Chris Wray added that the agency is also working with private companies and social media platforms to make sure they’re not being used to spread misinformation and propaganda.

“We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” he said.

Virtual court appearance today for Alek Minassian as his trial nears

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Oct 22nd, 2020

The man who killed 10 people when he drove a rental van down a busy sidewalk is set to appear in virtual court today as his trial nears.

Alek Minassian faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with the April 2018 incident.

Court is grappling with the logistics of holding the high-profile murder trial set to begin on Nov. 9 under strict COVID-19 courtroom limits.

Crown attorney Joseph Callaghan said last week the trial may be held over Zoom with the option of allowing families and the public to watch in a large courtroom.

Justice Anne Molloy said last week the main issue remains the 10-person courtroom limit as set out by the chief justice earlier this month.

Minassian’s trial by judge alone was set to begin on April 6, but was postponed because of the pandemic.

In early March, Minassian admitted in court to planning and carrying out the attack.

The judge has said the case will turn on Minassian’s state of state of mind at the time of the attack, not whether he did it.

2 sisters shot at Scarborough playground describe horror through drawings, handwritten words

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Oct 21st, 2020

It was a shooting that stunned the city three summers ago, when gunmen opened fire in a Scarborough playground – sending children running for their lives.

Police estimate there were about 11 children playing in the park at the time of the shooting on June 14, 2018 and believe at least 10 shots were fired.

Now, the two young sisters who were struck are describing the horror of that day in simple detail, through handwritten words and drawings.

The victim impact statements were submitted for the sentencing hearing for T’Quan Robertson, one of the men charged.

RELATED: Crime Stoppers offering $50,000 for information leading to arrest of alleged playground shooter

The younger sister writes, “I was outside playing and then I heard gunshots… the next I know the front of my shirt was red.”

The older sister described screaming when she saw her leg was bleeding — her statement also included a self-portrait of herself next to a basketball net and a gun.

Robertson pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault.  He’s scheduled to be sentenced October 29.

‘Loophole’ in child abuse reporting in historic cases: advocates

ADRIAN GHOBRIAL AND JESSICA BRUNO | posted Wednesday, Oct 21st, 2020

If a child told you they’d been sexually assaulted by an adult what would you do? Would you call police? Would you report the allegations to a children’s aid society? Or would you do neither?

For most of us, the moral choice is clear. So why has the obligation to report often been ignored by many who claim to be doing God’s work?

Sister Nuala Kenny is a pediatrician who has spent decades examining the sexual assault scandal rocking the religious institution she’s given her life to. As a nun, she calls the Catholic Church’s response to the abuse of children “a contradiction to what we’ve been called to be as Christians.”

A CityNews investigation has uncovered several child sexual assault claims against an order of Catholic priests based in Toronto. Dating back decades, the Basilian Fathers were made aware of abuse allegations against their own priests, but historically, cases were never reported to police or a children’s aid society. Instead, allegations were dealt with internally, resulting in alleged predator priests continuing to work in schools and churches.

“If the Church had reacted more effectively and properly, we would not have the catastrophe that we have today.”

It’s a scenario lawyer Rob Talach has seen again and again.

“This is the repetitive story in the Catholic cases, these priests are often reported and moved. I term it ‘the silent shuffle,’” he says. “If the Church had reacted more effectively and properly, we would not have the catastrophe that we have today.”

Disturbing Allegations

It’s the summer of 1978, and as they have for years, hundreds of underprivileged children from the city flood Columbus Boys Camp in Orillia, north of Toronto. The rural refuge is operated by the Basilian Fathers. The order of Catholic priests, also known as the Congregation of St. Basil, founded, runs or staffs schools and other educational institutions across the continent. Their motto is a passage from the Bible’s Book of Psalms: “Teach me goodness, discipline and knowledge.”

Bill Taylor was a 17-year-old camp counselor that summer and has fond memories of his time with the kids. “We took them canoeing, there was archery, camp crafts, it was a lot of fun.”

However, Taylor also says the sunny escape turned into a cabin of horrors for a group of young children.

“One day, three or four of these young boys, maybe six, seven or eight [years old], came to tell us that Father Leo was coming into their cabin at night and putting his hand in their sleeping bags and fondling them,” Taylor tells CityNews.

Taylor says he reported the allegations to Father John Malo, a Basilian Priest he looked up to. He says Fr. Malo appeared angry and the next day Father Leo Campbell was gone from the camp. No one ever spoke to him about the alleged incident, Taylor says, and he doesn’t believe any authorities were contacted.

Two years later, Fr. Campbell, now a teacher at a Basilan-run school in Sault St. Marie, would allegedly sexually assault and rape student Peter Luci for two years. 

Taylor believes “it’s a reasonable conclusion” that if police were called following the allegations at Columbus Boys camp – other young boys would have been spared.

Sr. Kenny calls priests who didn’t investigate or report claims of abuse “enablers of what happened.”

CityNews reached out to the Basilians multiple times, asking for an interview with one of their most senior priests, Vicar General David Katulski. Our requests were denied by their lawyer. Eventually, we sent questions about Taylor’s account to the Basilians for an official response. The order again declined to answer, stating, “we do not feel it is appropriate to answer your questions about specific individuals or events.” Their lawyer sent a statement addressing some of our questions about policy and the history of the Church’s understanding of sex abuse.

Full response from the Basi… by CityNewsToronto

A loophole in the duty to report

Every province and territory in Canada has child protection legislation that requires people who perform professional or official duties alongside children to report reasonable suspicions of abuse, or face legal penalties.

In Ontario, everyone from a teacher to a priest to a member of the public has a duty to immediately report to a children’s aid society if a child tells them they’re being assaulted. It includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and risk of harm. The duty to report applies to any child who is under 16 years old. A report may be made regarding 16- and 17- year-olds but is not mandatory.

“We know at least in the cases of childhood sex abuse you’re not going to learn about it until decades later.”

Ontario’s Child Youth and Family Services Act came into effect in 2018, updating longstanding provincial child welfare laws. According to Talach, who has worked on more than 400 sexual abuse cases against the Catholic Church, the current laws still do a disservice to victims and society.

“The duty to report child abuse is right now focused on when you learn about it when the kid’s a kid. We know at least in the cases of childhood sex abuse you’re not going to learn about it until decades later.”

When an adult comes forward to report their own historical case of childhood sexual assault, there isn’t the same duty for an organization to report the allegation to children’s aid or police.

CityNews reached out to the Ontario government and asked if they’d consider strengthening the law. They didn’t directly answer our question but noted even historical allegations can result in a “legal duty to report” if it’s believed a child is currently being abused.

CityNews has interviewed five people who say it took them between 20 to 55 years to tell anyone about the sexual assaults they say they endured at the hands of Basilian Priests. In many cases, the survivors blame themselves for what happened, they believe they’re the only victim, or they simply push the dark memories into a hidden corner of their mind. 

“It was very compartmentalized,” says Patrick McMahon, who was sexually abused by Hod Marshall, who was a Basilian priest at the time. “I put it away and for 20 years it was not part of my thought process and life was very difficult for me.”

The consequence of the decades of trauma-induced delay in speaking up keeps Talach up at night.

“Look, let’s just use common sense?” he says. “If there’s someone who’s thirty-five tells you that they’re abused when they were ten and that perpetrators are still working with 10-year-olds, do the math.”

In their original written statement, the Basilians told CityNews the order complies with duty to report laws. They say they would automatically take a current report of abuse of a child (who they take to be anyone up to age 18) to the local children’s aid society, as legislation mandates, “and in conjunction with that office, have it reported to police.”

In a second statement, sent to CityNews on day six of its investigative series, on behalf of Superior General Fr. Kevin Storey reads in part: “Our responsibility to monitor and protect our community is one that we shoulder with the utmost importance. Victims of clerical abuse have been failed in this respect. As a Congregation, we have taken meaningful steps to help prevent such horrific actions from taking place in the future.” The full statement is posted below.

Basilians under fire for handling of St. Mike’s sex assault

However, leadership at Toronto’s Basilian-run St. Michael’s College School came under fire in 2018 for not telling authorities for days about a cellphone video showing students sexually assaulting another boy.

Police confirm they only went to St. Mike’s to investigate after CityNews asked them about anonymous information that an incident had taken place at the school. It was only when officers arrived at St. Mike’s to follow up on our questions that the principal shared the videos with authorities.

At the time, St. Michael’s principal Greg Reeves said he held off on promptly informing police about the locker-room video because the victim hadn’t yet told his family about the incident.

Reeves, and the Basilian president of St Mike’s, Father Jefferson Thompson, would resign from their posts at the prestigious private school a week after the incident.

The pair cited “their shared desire to move the school forward without distractions and allow it to focus on healing and change after the horrific events of student misbehaviour that came to light,” according to a statement released by the school at the time. The Chair of St. Michael’s board, Michael Forsayeth, added that the pair “fulfilled their moral and ethical obligations to manage the immediate crisis.”

Before resigning, Reeves said, “The reality is that I had to make a decision at that time, and when I saw that video, the victim became my most important person. He at that point was the priority,” Reeves added that the next step he took was to “set up expulsion meetings.”

CityNews asked police at the time whether St. Mike’s school administration should have informed them of the sex assault video sooner. Inspector Dominic Sinopoli, commander of Toronto Police’s sex crimes unit, bluntly said: “Yes.”

Handling allegations from the past

An updated 2007 copy of the Basilians’ sexual abuse policy states that if a priest under suspicion is still around children he will be reassigned to a job that “temporarily prevents the individual from having contact with minors.”

The Basilians also note in their original statement that, “For reports of historical abuse, by an adult, for whom a perpetrator might be alive, we respect the right of the victim to report that abuse to the police, or not.”

“If their choice is to report to the police, we would be fully supportive. If their choice is not to report the matter to the police, we will not do so, nor would the police even accept a report from us in such a situation.”

Talach believes the grey area in our duty to report legislation is fraying the fabric of our communities.

“Look: the price of childhood sexual abuse on our society, on a very pragmatic and practical level, is huge. Go into a prison talk to the number of incarcerated people who were abused as children,” he says. “This is a rot, undermining the solid foundation of this nation and every nation.”

Full new statement from the Basilian Fathers of Toronto

Over these last several months, the Basilian Fathers have been reminded of heartbreaking accounts of sexual abuse faced by minors. As a Congregation that has built communities based on goodness, discipline and knowledge, we unreservedly apologize for the trauma and destruction that this has caused.

Our responsibility to monitor and protect our community is one that we shoulder with the utmost importance. Victims of clerical abuse have been failed in this respect. As a Congregation, we have taken meaningful steps to help prevent such horrific actions from taking place in the future.

For instance, since 1992 all candidates for the Basilian Fathers must pass psychological screening by independent assessors and have annual reviews and growth plans. Since 2006, the Basilian Fathers have been audited by an independent third-party organization, Praesidium, to ensure that we provide safe environments. As part of our accreditation, every Basilian must engage in ongoing education regarding healthy boundaries as well as recognizing signs when colleagues are not following proper protocols.

We cooperate fully in all legal investigations when allegations of impropriety are brought forward. An individual who faces an allegation cannot function as a priest while an investigation is taking place. In addition to these steps, a review board of lay professionals is called upon after inappropriate behaviour is identified to determine future steps in relation to the individual involved.

We acknowledge that allegations of this nature hurt the position of trust that we seek to maintain with our community and hope that our students, parishioners, colleagues, family, and friends give us the opportunity to reconcile and regain their trust.

We feel deep sorrow for those who have had their inherent dignity offended and we encourage all victims to let us know how we can help them move forward through a personal apology, counseling and/or financial reparation. We promise to do better, and we are truly sorry.

Fr. Kevin Storey, CSB

Superior General of the Basilian Fathers

Woman, 50, dead after crash near Kennedy and Sheppard

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Oct 21st, 2020

A 50-year-old woman has died after a crash in the city’s east end overnight.

Emergency crews were called to the area of Kennedy Road and Sheppard Avenue East around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The car went off the road and struck a light pole.

The driver was rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries but later died.

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