Back to school in a pandemic comes with additional stressors for some immigrant and refugee families
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has filled the start of the 2020 school year with more apprehension than usual. But for refugees and new immigrants to Canada who are trying to navigate an unfamiliar school system in addition to the new rules, it’s been especially tough, writes CBC’s Roshini Nair.
Port Moody, B.C.’s Lama Alrakad came to Canada from Syria two years ago. She said her son Limar, 9, is feeling especially isolated after spending six months away from school. “He became so shy. I started to be very worried about his mental health,” said Alrakad, who has decided to send her son back to in-class instruction after much consideration. She also worried her son would forget English and otherwise fall behind the longer he stayed at home. Alrakad said she tried to help her son with online assignments, but it was tough. “We don’t want him to be behind all of [his school friends].”
Alrakad’s story is not unusual. Staff at the Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, a Vancouver-based non-profit that helps vulnerable immigrant and refugee women, said they have increased their outreach and support programs to coincide with the start of the school year. Patricia Lomelli, a child-care co-ordinator with the non-profit, said while immigrants and refugees represent a broad category of people, some newcomers to Canada are struggling to understand the school system, let alone make decisions related to the pandemic.
It’s further complicated by the fact that many newcomers are working in essential sector roles — in health care, as front-line staff — and need to keep working in order to make ends meet. Lomelli said many families are juggling financial obligations to meet basic needs and “now with the school year approaching, they don’t know what to do.” Language and digital literacy are other barriers, said Valerie Lai, who also works at the non-profit. “They don’t understand the English. And even if they understand what [an email] says, they don’t understand what it means, what the options are because it’s not in their own language,” Lai said, adding some families don’t have the resources to choose online schooling. “They are putting their trust in the public school system.”
Both the Vancouver and Surrey school districts have case workers and staff dedicated to help transition newly arrived families into the school system, but the pandemic has forced some changes and adjustments. Candy Marvel-Metcalfe, a school settlement worker in Surrey, said since everything has to be done online, tasks that took 20 minutes can take more than an hour during the pandemic. “A lot of families I work with … come from refugee camps and so they have never learned computer skills,” she said. “There are families that are still struggling to adapt to these new changes.”
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CRA says CERB payments will be deposited by the weekend
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) said claimants can expect to see their Canada emergency response benefits (CERB) deposited before the weekend, after many people online reported not receiving their payments earlier this week as expected. Many who rely on the $2,000 monthly benefit to cover food, rent and bills have been expressing anxiety and frustration on social media over being forced to wait longer to see the money deposited in their accounts. Many also have said they haven’t been able to get clear answers from the CRA about the delays.
A spokesman for the CRA said the agency was being “overly cautious” in making sure payments are going to eligible recipients because of recent cyber attacks. The agency said the payments are expected to be deposited later today or Friday. The CRA shut down its online services last month after confirming it had been hit by two cyberattacks that compromised thousands of accounts linked to its services. Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed processing “hiccups” for the fact that many Canadians were reporting delays in receiving their CERB payments — but the CRA said that there were in fact no glitches or hiccups. Many CERB claimants applied for the monthly benefit Monday and were expecting the deposit within one or two days, as has been the delivery pattern in past months.
Last month, the federal government announced it was extending the CERB by one more month and revamping employment insurance (EI) to allow more people to receive financial assistance during the pandemic. Those changes, aimed at helping Canadians through the transition as the economy gradually reopens, are expected to cost $37 billion. The changes include making the EI system more flexible on the number of work hours required for a claim, making it easier for people to qualify for a one-year period.
U.S. CDC tells states to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution as soon as late October
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has asked state public health officials to prepare to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine to high-risk groups as soon as late October, according to documents published by the agency. The timing has taken on political importance as U.S. President Donald Trump seeks re-election on Nov. 3, after committing billions of federal dollars to develop vaccines for COVID-19, which has killed more than 186,000 people in the United States.
Pfizer said on Thursday it should know by the end of October whether a COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with German partner BioNTech SE is safe and effective. The U.S. drugmaker said it will seek approval immediately if trial results are positive. It has already manufactured hundreds of thousands of doses. Top U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday having a vaccine ready by the end of October is possible, but he was not counting on it. “These are all guesstimates,” Fauci told CNN, when asked about Pfizer’s comments, adding that most experts project a vaccine will be ready by November or December. “It is conceivable that you can have it by October, though I don’t think that that’s likely.”
The CDC “provided states with certain planning assumptions as they work on state-specific plans for vaccine distribution, including possibly having limited quantities of vaccines in October and November,” an agency spokesperson told Reuters. The vaccines would be made available free of cost first to high-risk groups including health-care workers, national security personnel, and nursing home residents and staff, the agency said in the documents. Regulators around the world have repeatedly insisted that development speed will not compromise vaccine safety, as faster results would stem from conducting parallel trials that are usually done in sequence. Such reassurances have not convinced everyone that political pressure will not play a role.
Parents in Quebec court today to fight for wider access to online learning
Quebec Superior Court Justice Frédéric Bachand listened to lawyer Julius Grey argue this morning in favour of an injunction that would allow parents to keep their children home from school and learning remotely, even if they don’t qualify for a medical exemption. In Quebec, unlike in Ontario this year, school attendance is mandatory. The province has established narrow criteria for who is qualified for an exemption and can receive distance learning. A group of parents is hoping to convince the judge to order the province to loosen those rules.
If granted, the injunction would likely be in place until a court can rule on their associated lawsuit, which argues Quebec is violating the charter rights of parents by forcing them to send their children to school despite the risks of the pandemic. “It’s clearly something that is irreparable and harmful and needs to be decided right away,” Grey told the judge, highlighting the urgency of the matter given that school started in the province last week. He argued that the guidelines allowing for a medical exemption issued by the government are not precise when it comes to family members who could possibly be affected should a child return to school. Grey also cited two key Supreme Court cases — R. v. Morgentaler and Carter v. Canada — that establish medical decisions as inherently individual decisions in support of his argument.
A lawyer with Quebec’s attorney general, Stéphanie Garon, argued against the injunction, saying the government had taken adequate precautions and the distance-learning measures adopted in the spring were a temporary measure. “The return-to-school protocol announced by the government was robust,” she said, noting it included the wearing of masks, frequent handwashing and more. Garon also said the quality of learning for the most vulnerable students will suffer if the injunction is granted. Parents also have the option of home-schooling their children, which does not require an exemption, and other parents whose children don’t qualify for the exemption have opted to keep them at home anyway.
What you need to know about getting a flu shot amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Canadians are about to face yet another challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic: the arrival of flu season. Hoping to avoid what some have termed a “twindemic” — an influx of people becoming ill as influenza and the new coronavirus circulate at the same time — health experts say it’s more important than ever to get the flu shot, writes CBC’s Nicole Ireland.
“If you haven’t received the vaccine in previous years, this is the year to get it,” said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an infectious disease expert specializing in influenza and emerging respiratory illnesses at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Anticipating an increased demand for the flu shot, the provinces and territories have collectively ordered 22 per cent more doses of the vaccine (13.7 million) compared to the amount ordered by the same time last year (11.2 million), according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. “This is the highest order ever placed in Canada for seasonal influenza vaccine,” the agency said in an email to CBC News.
No, the flu shot won’t protect you from COVID-19, but experts say it’s important to protect yourself from influenza for several reasons. Flu often takes an enormous toll on the health-care system, so it’s vital that people do what they can to reduce their chances of getting it. Otherwise, hospitals and health-care facilities could become overwhelmed if they need to treat both flu and COVID-19 patients. There is an “overlap” in the people who are at especially high risk of critical illness from influenza and from COVID-19, Skowronski said, including seniors and people with underlying health conditions.
Getting a flu vaccine could also help reduce “unnecessary testing” for COVID-19, Skowronski said, because several symptoms of both illnesses are similar. In addition, it’s not known whether people will become infected with influenza and COVID-19 at the same time — and what the consequences of that combination could be, said Dr. Jacob Rosenberg, a pediatrician in Woodbridge, Ont. At this point, children don’t appear to be highly susceptible to COVID-19, Rosenberg said, but they’re at high risk for flu. It’s not clear what would happen if they contracted both. “It is super important for every child over six months of age to get the flu vaccine,” he said.
Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain concludes Summer of Beethoven with Symphony No. 9 — and you can watch
Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain is concluding its Summer of Beethoven series in emphatic form Friday with a video stream of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on Deutsche Grammophon’s new DG Stage online platform. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts his physically distanced orchestra, chorus and soloists at Montreal’s Bourgie Hall in a performance recorded earlier this summer.
Initial plans for the Summer of Beethoven series did not include the Ninth Symphony, with its famous choral Ode to Joy. “It was not the moment for something joyful, when the world was going through a crisis,” Nézet-Séguin said in a promotional video. But as they recorded the other eight symphonies in the cycle, they realized the Ninth would give people hope.
To enable physical distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the seating was removed from Bourgie Hall, with musicians and singers performing not only onstage, but also throughout the parterre and balcony of the downtown Montreal concert hall. The performance costs $15.33 to stream and will be available for 48 hours.
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