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COVID-19 in Canada on Sept. 29: Canada's deal for 7.9M 15-minute rapid tests is 'key to reducing spread of the virus', Quebec students won't mask

Elisabetta Bianchini
·7-min read
COVID-19 In Canada
COVID-19 In Canada

Ontario to restrict visitors in long-term care homes

The Ontario government announced Tuesday that beginning Oct. 5, visitors to long-term care homes in COVID-19 “hotspots” will be restricted to staff, essential visitors and essential caregivers. The main areas with high COVID-19 transmission are Toronto, Ottawa and Peel.

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care, explained that an essential visitor is someone who is coming into a long-term care home for a potential end of life situation, or another critical reason. An essential caregiver is someone who is designated by a resident. Each resident can have up to two essential caregivers.

“They can come in during an outbreak, they can come in without an outbreak, they need the training in donning and offing of protective equipment,” Dr. Fullerton said. “They can be there whether it’s to feed their loved one or to assist their loved one in some way, or even to help other residents, depending on the home’s circumstances.”

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said there will be more information related to these designated “hotspots” and stressed that areas can be both introduced and taken out of these more critical zone designations as the COVID-19 situation evolved.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged anyone with a loved one in long-term care to “step up” and “get the training” to be a designated essential caregiver.

The Ontario government is also investing almost $540 million to provide additional support for long-term care homes. Most of the funds, $405 million, have been allocated to help homes with operating pressures, including infection prevention measures, staffing supports, and purchasing additional supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).

‘We’ve seen a casualness’ in social bubbles

At a press conference on Monday, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s top doctor, said “the concept of the bubble or the social circle no longer reflect the circumstances in which we live.” Dr. Williams responded to her statements, maintaining that the original concept of a cohort or social bubble “is still one we value.”

“The question is, have people maintained consistency and vigilance in maintaining that?” Ontario’s chief medical officer said. “We’ve seen a casualness and a movement away from that.”

“You can see by the numbers people, it does matter.”

In terms of gatherings for Thanksgiving, Dr. Williams asked the public to still limit contacts, but additional guidance and recommendations are still to come from the public health measures table.

Canada signs agreement for 7.9 million rapid COVID-19 tests

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, announced Tuesday that the federal government has signed an agreement for 7.9 million point-of-care rapid tests for COVID-19 with U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories, pending Health Canada authorization.

The results from a the nasal swab sample can be determined in approximately 15 minutes.

“These rapid tests will aid in meeting the urgent demand from provinces and territories to test Canadians and reduce wait times for results, which is key to reducing the spread of the virus,” Anand said.

She added that the federal government in continuing to pursue other agreements for rapid tests as well.

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu said testing will “continue to be a key part” of Canada’s public health approach to COVID-19.

She added that there have not been any at-home COVID-19 testing kits sent for review but the federal government is “actively engaging” with companies that produce these tests to encourage them to apply for approval in Canada.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said administering of these rapid tests will depend on their independent characteristics and sensitivity, but there will be a focus on high-risk settings and more remote areas of the country.

“Some of the key attributes of a point-of-care test is to be able to be deployed to more remote areas, to areas where you can’t send your samples without a really long turn around time,” Dr. Tam explained. “There may also be more high-risk exposure settings where it is really important to get that more rapid turnaround.”

She added that the longer it takes people to get access to a COVID-19 test and to have their result processed, the more “lost time” there is for contact tracers to do the critical work of identifying exposure settings and notifying close contacts to prevent further spread.

Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, explained that back when the country was largely “locked down,” it was much easier for people to identify their limited close contacts over a two-week period.

“Now what’s happening, when cases are being detected, the number of contacts has jumped to like 20 or 30 plus,” Dr. Njoo said. “Things are not the same as they were before and that’s also why it’s becoming more challenging and difficult on the ground.”

He stressed that the cases being reported now are a reflection of the actions of Canadians two weeks earlier, so the public is in a “catchup game” to now try to prevent more COVID-19 transmission.

Masking will still not be mandatory for students in Quebec

Although COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Quebec, with multiple regions of the province moving into the red alert level, Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, said the province maintains that mask wearing does not need to be mandatory for student in classrooms. He said it would be “difficult” to have children wear masks for a full school day.

Dr. Arruda said in these circumstances, wearing a mask is not as important as following the guidelines of safe distancing and the bigger concern is COVID-19 spread outside of these settings. He also said that although this is the province’s position on this issue right now, that does not mean that it will not change in the future.

Quebec Premier François Legault had a specific message for young people in the province to help stop the spread of the virus.

“You’re part of the solution,” Legault said. “The virus may be less risky for you but you can still have effects for the rest of your life and you can also pass the virus to your parents or your grandparents. You can put their life in danger.”

Prince Edward Island moves to ‘new normal’ phase on Thursday

Beginning on Thursday, Oct. 1 Prince Edward Island will move into the “new normal phase” or green phase of the province’s Renew PEI, Together plan.

For organized gatherings, cohorts of 50 people must be kept separate but there is no limit on the number of cohorts.

Group seating of up to 20 people is allowed, with the use of non-medical masks when two metres of distance cannot be maintained. Personal gatherings of up to 20 people will be allowed as well.

Indoor and outdoor organized recreational activities and team sports can operate, including but not limited to baseball, basketball, dance, gymnastics, hockey, and soccer, choirs, and day camp activities.

Partners-in-care and visitors in long-term care facilities can come in close contact with residents with the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer of P.E.I., said areas of the province can move back into the yellow or more severe red phase based on a number of considerations, including public health capacity, health care system capacity and outbreak risk in vulnerable settings.

“It is concerning to hear about the sharp rise in cases being reported by many provinces in Canada,” Dr. Morrison said. “It is normal for us to feel very protected here in Prince Edward Island, being part of the Atlantic bubble.”

“Islanders have worked together to protect themselves and one another.”

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