The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for August 26


A visitor wearing a face mask looks at art at a shopping centre in Jember, Indonesia. (Antara Foto/Seno/Reuters)

$2B in federal funding aims to help schools reopen safely as COVID-19 numbers climb

With less than two weeks to go before most schools are set to welcome back students for the fall term, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than $2 billion in funding to help provinces and territories re-open their schools and economies safely. The announcement comes as some provinces are reporting increases in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Trudeau also announced an extra $112 million for First Nations communities to ensure a safe return to school on reserves.

The funding is meant to allow provinces and territories to work with local school boards to implement measures to protect students and staff from COVID-19. The money can be used to help adapt learning spaces, improve air ventilation, increase hand sanitation and hygiene and buy extra personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies. While education falls under provincial jurisdiction, Trudeau said the money is meant only to top up provincial resources and comes with no strings attached on how it’s spent.

Funding will be provided in two instalments — the first payment is expected this fall and a second is to arrive early in 2021, writes CBC’s Kathleen Harris. Trudeau said the provinces will need to advise the federal government on how they have spent the money before the second disbursement flows. Trudeau said MPs have been hearing from a lot of parents who are extremely anxious about schools reopening. Premiers are “very pleased” with the additional funding and provinces will decide how they spend the money to bolster their existing plans, he added.

Most students have been learning from home since the COVID-19 outbreak shut down schools and businesses in mid-March. Trudeau said returning kids to school safely is critical to restarting the economy, since it allows parents to return to work without worrying about the health of their children. “Our children must be safe in the classroom. That’s non-negotiable,” he said. “No parent should be losing sleep because they have to go back to work, but aren’t confident schools are properly prepared.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the federal money should support smaller classroom sizes. “There is a real need to see dollars that are tied to schools being safer, and specifically what the health-care experts and what the school experts are saying: classroom sizes,” he said. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce welcomed today’s announcement, saying it will help working mothers return to jobs. “This funding is critical to helping women fully participate in the workforce, and especially so amid the economic recovery,” said Leah Nord, director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth.

Click below to watch more from The National

Frosh Week will look very different this year at universities and colleges across Canada, as the pandemic forces a shift from large in-person events to virtual ones. 2:07


U.S. health agency changes guidelines on who is recommended for COVID-19 testing

U.S. health officials have sparked a wave of confusion after posting guidelines that coronavirus testing is not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people. The new guidance was posted earlier this week on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. But on Monday, a CDC testing overview page was changed to say that testing is no longer recommended for symptom-less people who were in close contact situations.

There was a caveat, however. Testing may be recommended for those with health problems that make them more likely to suffer severe illness from an infection, or if their doctor or local state officials advise they get tested. CDC officials referred all questions to the agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. That suggests that HHS ordered the change, not CDC, said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher.

Public health experts across the U.S. called the change bizarre. They noted that testing contacts of infected people is a core element of public health efforts to keep outbreaks in check, and that a large percentage of infected people — the CDC has said as many as 40 per cent — exhibit no symptoms. Dr. Tom Frieden, who was head of the CDC during the Obama administration, said the move follows another recent change: to no longer recommend quarantine for travellers coming from areas where infections are more common. “Both changes are highly problematic” and need to be better explained, said Frieden, who is now the president of a nonprofit program that works to prevent epidemics.

Read more about what’s happening in the U.S.

New Zealander sails through Arctic on custom yacht in violation of COVID-19 restrictions

Since June 1, Transport Canada has prohibited pleasure craft from operating in Arctic waters “to better protect Arctic communities” from the spread of COVID-19. But according to a Facebook post on Aug. 20, Bobby Klengenberg, a local observer with the Inuit Marine Monitoring Program, spotted Peter Smith’s custom yacht, the Kiwi Roa, off the coast of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Transport Canada confirmed the sighting in an email to CBC News, and said the vessel was told “to depart Canadian waters and not make landfall.”

A spokesperson said the Canadian Coast Guard will “monitor the vessel’s transit out of the region.” If Smith is indeed found to have broken the law, they wrote, the agency “will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action,” including penalties of up to $5,000. Smith is an accomplished boat builder and ocean racer from New Zealand. The 72-year-old has been living aboard the custom-built Kiwi Roa, described on his website as “the ultimate ocean-going home,” for 26 years. Reached by email, Smith said the story is one of bureaucracy “out of control and gone mad.” He wrote that he suspects “it is also motivated toward gaining political points in support of Canada’s claim to have control of the [Northwest Passage], the local Inuit and innocent yachtsman just being pawns in the game.”

In a second email, Smith said the wording of the original Transport Canada ban was “ambiguous.” The text of the ban does allow for foreign vessels to exercise the right of “innocent passage” in Canadian waters, which Smith says he is now relying on “as a last resort.” But Canada’s official position is that the Northwest Passage counts as “internal waters,” meaning that right does not apply. That position is contested by the United States and several other countries. Smith went on to say concerns about him spreading the coronavirus are overblown. He wrote that he has a history of lung problems from his job as a boat builder. “I am much more at risk from the villages than they are from me.”

Read more about the situation

Hundreds of Quebec teachers dissatisfied with school reopening plan, CBC questionnaire finds

With the start of school just days away in Quebec, teachers and other education workers around the province say the school system is still not prepared to resume in-class teaching amid the threat of COVID-19. Nearly 2,000 teachers, principals and other education workers in public schools filled out an email questionnaire circulated last week by CBC Montreal and Radio-Canada.

Their responses indicate deep-seated concerns about their personal safety, high levels of anxiety, confusion about government guidelines and widespread dissatisfaction with Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge. Nearly 85 per cent of those who completed the questionnaire said it will be either “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to ensure public-health guidelines are respected when classes resume in the coming days. Earlier this month, Roberge revised Quebec’s back-to-school plan, bringing it in line with the latest research on how the novel coronavirus is transmitted. But hundreds of Quebec teachers still have concerns about the updated plan.

“I regularly had groups of between 30-34 students last year,” one high-school teacher wrote in response to an open-ended question on the questionnaire. “I had difficulty walking between the desks, so the students were clearly less than two metres apart from each other.” Of the 1,574 teachers who responded to the questionnaire, more than 60 per cent recommended cutting class sizes in half in order to ensure the guidelines are respected, and their safety ensured. Opinions contained in the CBC questionnaire should be treated differently from the results of a public opinion poll. The sample of respondents is not necessarily representative of either the voting public or of the 100,000 elementary and high-school teachers in the province.

Read more about the questionnaire


Lingering symptoms among COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ remain a mystery

Chandra Pasma’s seven-year-old daughter still has a cough, and it’s not going away. Her other two children also have symptoms that come and go, as do she and her husband, months after the Ottawa family contracted presumed cases of COVID-19. They’re among a group being classified as “long-haulers,” people who contracted the illness weeks or even months ago and continue to experience symptoms long after the virus itself has become undetectable in their bodies.

There are three general hypotheses for what’s behind the ongoing symptoms, according to Marc-André Langlois, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa who specializes in viruses. One possibility is that when the virus enters a cell, the body’s immune response kicks in and the virus degrades, but part of it gets left behind. When the cell dies and breaks apart, it releases some of that degraded virus back into the body. Another hypothesis is SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the illness, is slow at replicating and could lay dormant for a while, creating a “viral reservoir.”

“Viruses are very good at this,” Langlois said, pointing to both the herpes simplex virus and HIV, which is “notoriously good” at creating viral reservoirs, making it especially difficult to cure. HIV can go into hiding for years before suddenly reactivating, he said. A third possibility is that the body’s immune response goes into overdrive, creating a chronic or autoimmune condition. Langlois said researchers are hoping to test more long-haulers to find out what may be causing their ongoing symptoms. “Being infected and recovering is only part of the story there,” he said. “There might be some long-term effects from getting the virus.”


Edmonton elementary teachers pen back-to-school pandemic picture book

Two Edmonton elementary school teachers wrote a picture book for young students as they head back to the classroom during the pandemic. (Submitted by Kristi Chipeniuk)

Two Edmonton teachers are adding more firsts to their lists of unexpected back-to-school plans: co-author credits on a pandemic picture book. Back-to-school stories are a bona fide genre in the world of picture books, with hundreds of titles intended to help ease children back into the classroom. But the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated those reliable narratives by introducing new elements, from face masks to physical distancing.

Despite their searches, Edmonton Catholic Schools teachers Cassandra Christen and Kristi Chipeniuk couldn’t find a picture book that tackled those new back-to-school details in a way that would resonate with their Grade 2 classes. So, they decided to make their own. “One way we really like to teach our students about tough subjects or hard things is through picture books,” Chipeniuk said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

We Can’t MASK our Excitement! is available in paperback through Amazon. In the book, the first-time authors take readers on an illustrated guide through some of the changes students can expect to see when classes resume. The teachers said writing the book helped ease their own anxieties about starting the school year under the pandemic. “That positivity, it really helped re-frame it in my mind. I have kind of a different perspective going back and I feel less nervous than I did before,” Christen said.

Read more about the book

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