Ontario back-to-school plan is ‘safest in the country,’ Ford asserts

Laveta Brigham

Yahoo News Canada is committed to providing our readers with the most accurate and recent information on all things coronavirus. We know things change quickly, including some possible information in this story. For the latest on COVID-19, we encourage our readers to consult online resources like Canada’s public health website, […]

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Yahoo News Canada is committed to providing our readers with the most accurate and recent information on all things coronavirus. We know things change quickly, including some possible information in this story. For the latest on COVID-19, we encourage our readers to consult online resources like Canada’s public health website, World Health Organization, as well as our own Yahoo Canada homepage.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread around the world, Canadians seem to be increasingly concerned about their health and safety

Currently, there are more than 4,600 active cases of COVID-19 in Canada (with more than 121,000 diagnoses so far) and 9,000 deaths. Nearly 90 per cent of the country’s reported COVID-19 cases have recovered.

Check back for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak in Canada.

For a full archive of the first month of the pandemic, please check our archive of events.

August 19

Ontario Premier sticks to consistent, repetitive message on back to school plan

At a transit announcement in Mississauga, Ont. on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford stuck to his consistent messaging that the province’s back to school plan is “the safest plan in the entire country.”

When pressed on any considerations to reduce class sizes in elementary schools across the province, Ford maintained that school boards have the ability to dip into their reserve funds to hire more teachers and get access to additional instruction spaces, if they desire.

Ford was also asked about the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) proposing to make masks mandatory across all grades, opposed to just Grade 4 and up. The premier responded by saying he agrees with the recommendations from SickKids that younger students should not be required to wear masks but said he will “support” the TDSB.

“Keeping a mask on in JK or senior kindergarten might be difficult but we’ll support it,” Ford said. “It’s hard to keep the masks on them.”

Manitoba adds masking requirement in schools

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced at a press conference on Wednesday that students in Grade 4 to Grade 12 and school staff will be required to wear a mask if physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health, indicated the province will be supporting schools to acquire a supply of masks, but more information is expected to come in the near future, including funding for this specific measure.

The province also announced the launch of the #RestartMB Pandemic Response System, an online tool to provide localized COVID-19 information to Manitobans.

“Equipping Manitobans with the information they need to stay safe while restarting our economy will help ensure we are better prepared to navigate through the COVID challenges ahead,” Pallister said in a statement. “That is what our new Pandemic Response System is designed to do.”

There are four colour-coded response levels:

  • (Red) critical – community spread of COVID-19 is not contained and/or there are significant strains on the health-care system

  • (Orange) restricted – community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring, public health measures are being taken to manage the negative impact on human health and/or the health system

  • (Yellow) caution – community transmission of COVID-19 is at low levels

  • (Green) limited risk – the spread of COVID-19 is broadly contained and a vaccine and/or effective treatment is available

Dr. Roussin explained the province is beginning at the yellow response level, with low community transmission.

He explained that public health is looking at the average amount of community transmission in the community over a seven day period and if the numbers are over 40 on a “consistent basis,” that will indicate to public health that there is a significant amount of ongoing community transmission, and changes may need to be made.

“COVID’s not going away, not going away anytime soon, as much as we would like it to,” the premier said on Wednesday. “We all have to learn to live with this virus.”

“The more we learn, the more we act on what we learn, the safer we’ll all be.”

August 18

Alberta’s top doctor urges the public to keep cases low to avoid ‘tidal wave’ of new cases

With COVID-19 cases continuing to increase in Alberta, with particular concerns around cases in Edmonton, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said it is difficult to determine what the pattern of a second wave might be and when it will officially begin.

“If we allow spread to continue unchecked, if we don’t collectively follow the public health guidance, then we could be seeing the beginning of an upward trend, which could move into a bigger wave,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “What we’ve seen, I will say, across the province over the past several weeks is more like a series of ripples across many areas of the province where case numbers go up and come down.”

“A second wave, a really big second wave, is not inevitable and the shape of what that wave looks like, whether it’s a ripple, whether it’s a high peak, is in our hands and collectively we can keep it at more of a low level rather than a tidal wave.”

As parents and students anticipate the return to school, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health indicated officials do have a specific threshold for when a school would have to be shutdown due to COVID-19 spread.

She explained it would depend on “when their symptoms started” and “when they have been at school.” Dr. Hinshaw said, for example, if a students was symptomatic and stayed home on Monday, and hadn’t been at school since Friday, there wouldn’t be a requirement to isolate the rest of their class.

“The simple fact of symptoms would not require those in the classroom to be in quarantine or isolation,” she said, adding that parents or guardians of that student would be encouraged to get them tested for the virus and if positive, public health would look into close contacts.

A sibling of a student with COVID-19 would also need to stay home but unless they were also confirmed positive for the virus as well, Dr. Hinshaw said the close school contacts of that student wouldn’t need to be isolated.

Quebec prepares for second wave of COVID-19

The Quebec government released its action plan for a possible second wave of COVID-19, with a focus on ensuring that seniors in long-term care and associated healthcare workers are prepared.

Some of the interventions include prohibiting the movement of workers in long-term care facilities, offering additional home support for seniors, building up supply of personal protective equipment and reduce the time for screening.

News plans and solutions need to be in place by Sept. 30.

The government also announced that $106 million will be provided to public health to hire 1,000 full-time employees and material resources.

‘The best plan in the country, bar none, end of story’

Ontario Premier Doug Ford continued the pattern of defending the province’s back to school plan, reiterating that it is “the best plan in the country, bar none, end of story.”

Ford maintained that the Ontario government followed the guidance from public health officials and Sick Kids hospital when devising the rules around bringing children back to school.

“It wasn’t the Doug Ford plan, it wasn’t the Stephen Lecce plan, it was a combination of all the people that we got advice off of,” the premier said. “I’m always going to listen to the doctors and I’m going to listen to the doctors over the teachers’ unions.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford has been a strong supporter of the work of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who will replace Bill Morneau as Minister of Finance for Justin Trudeau’s government. The Ontario premier congratulated her on her new position.

“There’s no secret, I think the world of Chrystia, I sent her a message this morning,” Ford said. “She was swamped as Deputy Prime Minister and if there was one person to have confidence in, it’s Chrystia Freeland.”

Canada’s top doctor comments on the safety of elections during COVID-19

In brief remarks on Tuesday, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, confirmed her department has not been engaged in discussions around the safety of holding elections, following New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs calling an election for Sept. 14.

Dr. Tam said there has been guidance on public health measures and recommendations around physical distancing, mask wearing indoors and hand hygiene that “all have to be in place” in these circumstances. She added that it may be prudent to explore technological advancements around elections.

As younger people continue to account for a large percentage of COVID-19 cases, Canada’s chief public health officer said a lot of thought is being put into how to communicate pandemic messaging to this age group.

“I think we can all do better,” Dr. Tam said, adding that new youth testimonials on COVID-19 have recently be launched.

“I think it’s really important to engage the input from young persons,” she said. “These are the people with the lived experience and that their ideas and innovation is going to be really critical.”

August 17

British Columbia changes rules on mask wearing in schools

The British Columbia government provided updated guidelines that require masks to be worn by staff, middle and secondary students in high traffic school-related areas. This includes buses, hallways, or anytime students are outside of their learning group and physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Exceptions will be made for those who are not able to wear a mask for medical reasons.

At a press conference on Monday, B.C.’s Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, said although school safety is top of mind for many in the province, a particular concern for health officials is the number of private, indoor gatherings in B.C.

“This pandemic is not ending soon,” Dix said. “This pandemic that we’re all tired of, so very tired of, will be going on now, we will expect, well through 2021 into 2022.”

“This new normal’s going to be in place for a long time…We cannot let a few wreck it for everybody else.”

He added that the province needs “buy in” from the public to prevent these high risk situations from happening but suggested that the province is also looking at how to better enforce the public health measures in place.

Dr. Réka Gustafson, B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer, said the province has only seen one public exposure that was exclusively an outdoor event. She added that most of the COVID-19 transmission in the province has been in closed environments with prolonged contact.

Ontario government pressed on negotiations with the province’s largest school board

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, faced several questions at a press conference on Monday about the provincial back to school plan, with a focus on discussions with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

This comes after the Ontario government rejected the school board’s proposal for the upcoming school year, which included a reduction in class sizes in elementary school (between 15 and 20 students per class) and shortening the 300-minute instruction time by 48 minutes to give teachers preparation time at the end of each school day.

Further discussion between the province and the TDSB leaders is scheduled for Tuesday.

“Our plan has been pretty solid throughout this whole pandemic,” Ford said. “We have been flexible.”

Minister Lecce said the province has had constructive discussions with the Toronto school board but stressed that the government plans to prioritize giving all students as much time in front of a teacher as possible.

The premier also called out the teachers’ unions for not being flexible with their demands. Unions have been calling for a number of additional considerations by the province, including smaller classes sizes and cohorts, a stronger masking policy and additional safeguards on buses.

“The Direction does not meet basic and essential health and safety requirements and exposes our members to risks that threaten not just their own health and lives, but also, at a minimum, the health and lives of their students, and their family members,” a letter from the province’s four biggest teachers’ unions to the Ontario government reads. “The safety of students cannot be separated from the safety of teachers and education workers in this context.”

“They constantly want to attack,” Ford said. “Why don’t you be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”

“The teachers union, they wanted HVAC, we went out, we gave them HVAC. They wanted more sanitation, we went out, we gave them more sanitization. They wanted more access to the reserves from the boards, we went out and we gave them more on the reserves…Everything you’ve asked, we’ve changed it.”

With negotiations still in flux with the province’s largest school board, Lecce reiterated his previous statement that the government is open to the possibility of staggering the start of school “by a few days” but he didn’t provide any additional comment on the possibility of delaying the start of the school year further.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, also commented on the province’s back to school plan on Monday. She indicated there is “never any situation with absolutely zero risk” and the existing health protocols, like physical distancing and individuals staying home if they are at all symptomatic, are even more important when school resumes.

“Reopening schools is something that we know is very important, paediatricians have very strongly recommended it in terms of the mental and social health, as well as learning for children,” Dr. Yaffe said. “What we’re looking at is implementing public health measures to mitigate the risk and then, if there is a case, to make sure it’s dealt with as quickly as possible to reduce spread.”

Saskatchewan pushes back school start date

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced the province will be pushing the start of the 2020-21 school year to Sept. 8, after it was previously set between Sept. 1 and Sept. 3.

“This extra time will provide teachers and staff two to four additional days to be in the schools to get training on the new protocols, properly reconfigure classrooms, and where possible hold virtual meetings with parents to discuss the new school procedures,” the statement from the province reads.

The Saskatchewan government also announced it will allocate $40 million from the $200-million provincial COVID-19 contingency fund for the education sector, which will support the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies, and enhancing distance learning options.

The province will be increasing its testing capacity to 4,000 tests by the beginning of September, in advance of the school restart. Saskatchewan officials are encouraging teachers and staff to get tested for COVID-19 before school resumes and throughout the school year.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said although he anticipates the “occasional” COVID-19 case in a student or school staff member, it should not always be a cause of concern.

“COVID travels from the community to schools,” Dr. Shahab said at a press conference on Monday, adding that it is “important to keep community transmission low.”

He said that as cough and cold season arrives, testing is important but he expects that “nine times out of ten” it won’t be COVID-19.

Ontario NDP leader calls out Ford’s ‘bargain basement scheme’ for the province’s back to school plan

On Monday morning, Ontario NDP Leader Andrew Horwath brought a school bus to Queen’s Park, with cardboard cutouts of students, to demonstrate how crowded children will be in these settings.

While taking questions from reporters, Horwath indicated that some school buses in the province are carrying three children per seat with more than 70 kids on one bus.

The provincial NDP leader stressed that there were concerns about overcrowding in classrooms before the COVID-19 pandemic, criticizing the Ontario government for not stepping up to allow for smaller classes and fewer students on buses. She said the province should be facilitating the hiring of more teachers and school staff, adding bus routes and sourcing additional spaces for instruction.

“What parents really wanted was a secure return to school five days a week where they know their kids are going to be safe,” Horwath said. “Unfortunately, Mr. Ford’s bargain basement scheme doesn’t do that at all.”

“You should have been on this and now, three weeks ahead of school, parents are trying to make decisions about what to do and…some folks are saying, if school’s not going to open on time then we need more options, we need child care options, we need supports if you’re going to expect us to stay home.”

Horwath also accused Doug Ford’s government of trying to resume in-class learning “on the cheap” when more provincial funding is necessary for a safe return to school.

“The idea that boards of education can dip into their reserve to try to close the gap that should have been funded by the provincial government is simply the wrong thing to do,” the provincial NDP leader said. “It’s just not good enough that the boards are expected to draw from the reserves opposed to the government of Ontario doing its job, which is to fund the safe return of school for all of our kids, including their transportation needs as well.”

Quebec government announces additional funding for schools, teachers

The Quebec government announced Monday that it will invest $20 million for additional education support, including hiring more teachers and tutors.

This investment is also set to provide more assistance to students with learning disabilities or learning difficulties.

At a press conference on Monday, Quebec’s Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, recognized that keeping children out of the school setting for three months can “create some gaps,” which these additional resources will help fill.

Roberge was also asked about reports that Montreal lawyer Julius Grey plans to file a lawsuit in Superior Court to challenge the province’s order that all children must return to in-class learning when school resumes in Quebec, or parents have to choose to homeschool their children. Grey argues this contravenes the charter of rights and freedoms.

“In Quebec, going to school is mandatory from six to sixteen,” the education minister said. “Parents have the choice to opt for homeschooling if they want to do so.”

He went on to suggest that if there are particularly difficulties related to COVID-19 infections, the province would provide assistance to help students learn at home but the best place for children to be is in school.

August 14

Ontario expands capacity limits at fitness facilities

The Ontario government announced that beginning on Aug. 15, sport, fitness and recreation facilities can expand their capacity to 50 people for each indoor sport or fitness room, with physical distancing of at least two metres.

The new capacity limits apply to gymnasiums, health clubs, community centres, multi-purpose facilities, arenas, exercise studios, yoga and dance studios and other fitness facilities that are able to follow the new rules.

“Many of our gyms and fitness centres are owned and operated by small business owners and they are struggling,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “To help them get back on their feet and hire back staff, we are making these changes so they can serve more people.”

“I continue to urge everyone to follow the strict public health protocols to ensure everyone can have a safe workout.”

The provincial government is also investing $8 million through the Ontario Amateur Sport Fund to help the province’s sports organizations.

“This funding is providing much-needed stability and support to a sector that provides services to many businesses and non-profit organizations,” Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries said in a statement. “With these changes and investments, we will once again show the world that Ontario is the best place to play sports.”

‘Give us a break, just a little bit of a break’

Premier Ford was asked at Friday’s press conference to comment on hundreds of people in Hamilton receiving tickets from local police for drinking in park during the COVID-19, after some health experts have indicated that during the pandemic this is safer than being in enclosed spaces like bars or house parties.

The premier said he understands that some people need more breathing room, particularly people who live in smaller apartments with limited or no outside space.

“I can’t agree with giving someone a ticket during COVID,” Ford said. “Gives us a break, just a little bit of a break…who cares, if you aren’t rowdy.”

“They’re making it legal to go out and smoke a joint, a doobie, a reefer whatever the heck they call it nowadays. I wouldn’t want my kids walking by a bunch of guys smoking cannabis or marijuana but if a couple of guys are sitting there quietly on a picnic bench having a cold little beer, who cares. It’s not a big deal, that’s just my personal opinion.”

The premier also commented on the recent potential exposure impacting about 550 who were at the Brass Rail Tavern strip club in Toronto between Aug. 4 and Aug. 9, after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s about follow up and we’re going to show how contact tracing works,” Ford said. “Practise social distancing, I know it sounds crazy…when you’re talking about the Brass Rail but you’ve just got to do it.”

“I feel sorry for the people when they go to their house and tell them that they were at the Brass Rail, that’s who I feel sorry for, I feel sorry for the spouse, seriously. Man, I wouldn’t want to be on the end of that one.”

Ford added that all businesses need to follow the public health protocols in place and said everyone who was exposed has to get tested.

Education minister ‘open to working with boards’ on staggered school restart

At a press conference on Friday, Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, confirmed that a memo has been sent to provincial school boards advising them that based on their request, they will have the flexibility to stagger the resumption of in-class learning throughout the first week of the school year.

This can include, for example, brining younger students back to school on the first day and resuming classes for older student in the school on the last day of the week.

Lecce went on to say that he is “open to working with boards” if they believe more time is needed to safely restart all classes, beyond the first week.

“If they believe it’s really important to take a few extra days to restart the school year, stagger the start to reduce the volume of kids coming into those schools, I’m going to work with them in the partnership of keeping the kids safe,” he said.

Federal officials planning for ‘worst-case scenario’ in the fall

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

By Aug. 23, Canada could see up to 127,740 cumulative COVID-19 cases and up to 9,115 cumulative deaths across the country, according to the latest modelling data.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, and deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, presented the national information at a press conference on Friday and stressed that it is “difficult” to predict future spread of the virus with many recent cases based on localized outbreaks and hotspots of community transmission.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Dr. Tam indicated that maintaining a combination of public health measures will be “essential” to keeping cases low, particularly as schools reopen and more businesses resume operations.

“Right now, I think on a whole we are on that slow burn kind of trajectory but it doesn’t take much for things to escalate,” she said. “Can always do better, I have to say.”

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Canada’s chief public health officer said that until there is a safe and effective vaccine, COVID-19 cases will still be seen but the goal is to keep spread low, maintaining a relatively “slow burn” to keep the virus under control.

Dr. Tam added that it is still prudent to plan for a “worst case scenario,” which could include a large fall peak, followed by ongoing peaks and valleys, which exceed Canada’s health care capacity.

“The take home message is that the fate is still within our hands and what we do now will influence the probability of the fall peak,” she said, adding that Canada’s health officials are also planning for the convergence of other respiratory viruses that will likely circulate in the fall, including influenza.

“We don’t know the seasonality of this virus. It’s continued throughout the summer, that’s for sure, but what if it demonstrates a certain type of acceleration under certain conditions … The other aspect of planning for the influenza season is also making sure that capacity isn’t being half taken up by influenza-related hospitalizations, for example.”

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

The effective reproductive number in Canada, how many people are infected by each case of COVID-19, has recently pushed up above one this month. Dr. Tam indicated this number needs “remain consistently below one” but explained that this metric may be a “less clear” signal of the trend of the virus when national infection rates remain relatively low.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Staying in line with what many local jurisdictions have been reporting, the latest federal data shows that Canadians between the ages of 20 and 39 reported the highest incidence of COVID-19 recently.

Although this age group generally does not have severe illness from the virus, they are not entirely immune to critical outcomes.

“Transmission in any age group builds a reservoir for the virus that threatens our ability to maintain epidemic control,” Dr. Tam said.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Recent trends in the past couple of weeks shows an increase in transmission and localized outbreaks in several jurisdictions with previously low levels of spread, including B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Dr. Tam said this is a reminder that all Canadians across the country need to remain vigilant and follow existing public health measures.

Canada-U.S. border restrictions extended

Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, has confirmed that existing restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border will be in place for another 30 days, until Sept. 21.

“We will continue to do what’s necessary to keep our communities said,” Blair wrote in a tweet on Friday morning.

The existing rules prohibit all non-essential travel between the two countries.

Canada provides ‘pathway’ to permanent residency for asylum claimants on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic

The Canadian government announced it is providing a “pathway” to permanent residency for some asylum claimants working in the health care during the pandemic.

These individuals must provide direct care to patients and Quebec will select the qualifying asylum claimants who wish to reside in the province.

“Canada is above all else a nation where we all look out for one another,” Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said at a press conference on Friday. “A place where people seek to recognize those who put others first, even if that invites personal risk, even if no one asked to help them out, even if they did so simply because they felt it was the right thing to do.”

The following criteria must be met to successfully apply:

  • Individuals must have claimed asylum before March 13.

  • Individuals were issued a work permit after they made a claim for asylum.

  • Claimants must have worked in health institutions (ex. hospitals, long-term care homes, home care through an organization or agency, assisted living facilities) for no less than 120 hours between March 13 and Aug. 14 in occupations such as orderlies, nurses, nurses’ aides and patient service associates, assistant orderlies and certain home support workers.

  • Individuals must demonstrate six months of experience in the designated occupation before being granted permanent residence and will have until Aug. 31, 2021 to get this experience.

  • They must have a Certificat de sélection du Québec (CSQ), if wishing to reside in Quebec.

  • All individuals must meet existing admissibility requirements, including those related to criminality, security and health.

Family members of the principal applicant who are in Canada would be included in the application for permanent residency, but anyone who has been found ineligible to make an asylum claim, or anyone who has withdrawn or abandoned their claims, is excluded.

Nova Scotia implements mandatory masking in schools

The Nova Scotia government announced that students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear a mask in schools, including in hallways and common areas if a physical distance of two metres cannot be maintained. There is an exception in classroom settings when students are facing in the same direction, seated at desks that are two metres apart.

“We know that social distancing is not always physically possible but schools have been asked to be creative and innovative to maximize opportunities for spacing,” Zach Churchill, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Education, said at a press conference on Friday.

Churchill explained that students and staff will receive two free cloth face masks, and disposable masks will also be available if students forget or lose their face mask during the school day.

“We need this to work for all of us and we can do that by continuing [to work] together,” the education minister said.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, called for parents to work as a family to make their children more comfortable wearing a mask, including teaching them how to take a mask off and put a mask on safely.

If there is a COVID-19 case identified in a school, Dr. Strang indicated local public health officials will “quickly” work to identify and test close contacts, beginning with the people in that classroom cohort. He said anyone who tests positive will quarantine at home for at least 14 days and people identified as close contacts will also self-isolate for 14 day.

“I fully expect that we will get COVID cases in a school, but that doesn’t mean that what we’ve got in place has not worked,” Dr. Strang said. “Our goal is to keep our COVID cases low and if we follow the practices that worked in the first wave, and that have worked in the past to protect our school communities from other communicable diseases, we’ll be able to maintain appropriate levels of safety.”

August 13

COVID-19 questions of the day

B.C. on an ‘upward trajectory’ of COVID-19 cases

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

New COVID-19 modelling data released by officials in British Columbia shows the province is on an “upward trajectory” in COVID-19 cases, which the province’s top doctor says is “concerning” but it is still possible to change the pattern.

“It’s not a predictive model,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer said. “It doesn’t tell us what’s going to happen it tells us what can happen.”

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

The reproductive numbers in the province have been “bouncing around,” but Dr. Henry wants to see the number “hovering around one” or below one, while it has increase to around two in August.

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

The latest data shows that a larger proportion of more recent cases are in younger people.

B.C.’s provincial health officer said hotspots for spread in this age group includes bars, social events and other private gatherings.

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

The province also released information on how COVID-19 has impacted people of different racial and ethnic background differently.

“What this shows all of us is that this pandemic has created incredible uncertainty, anxiety and many challenges, but the challenges have not been shared equally,” Dr. Henry said. “We know it has differentially impacted those of lower economic status, people in racialized communities and we now have to look at how we can support communities across B.C.”

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

B.C.’s provincial health officer added that the virus has been “quite stealthy” with many only ever experiencing mild symptoms but she indicated there is no evidence that this is because the virus has mutated.

“It does change, it mutates, but relatively slowly compared to some other viruses like influenza,” Dr. Henry said. “It means that immunity is likely to last for a longer period of time, it also means that the chances of a vaccine being effective for a longer period of time and in a broader population is slightly more likely.”

Ontario’s top doctor backs plan for return to school, Lecce offers more cash

Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, said school boards in the province will be able to access reserve funds for the upcoming school year to invest in more staff and to be able put additional physical distancing measures in place, which frees up about $500 million with the province providing support to school boards without reserve funds.

Lecce announced that $50 million will be provided to update ventilation systems in schools and $18 million will support online learning.

The education minister said students whose parents or guardians choose the online learning model for the upcoming school year will receive 75 per cent of their instruction through live, synchronized learning.

When asked about the possibility of school boards staggering the start of school for various grades, Lecce suggested that is something he would support.

“I’m going to support any concept to de-risk the circumstance for kids and that seems reasonable, and not outside the spirit of our plan, which is to get kids back to school at the beginning of September,” the education minister said.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, maintained that Ontario’s back to school plan is safe, despite calls from the teachers unions that it puts the health of both students and teachers at risk.

“When we were rapidly increasing in cases back in March, without being asked, I was concerned and recommended that…we keep the school closed because I didn’t feel with that amount of community transmission that we could ensure the safety in the schools,” Dr. Williams said. “If there was that concern now I would not recommend opening at this stage but I am recommending opening.”

More details on back-to-school measures in New Brunswick

The New Brunswick government released additional guidance on its plan for the resumption of school in September.

All students must bring a face mask to school but they do not need to be worn in classroom settings. Students in Grades 6-12 must wear a face mask on school buses and common areas, while the use of a face mask is “encouraged” for students in Kindergarten to Grade 5.

“In the event that a student becomes ill at any point during the school day…they’ll be required to wear the mask at that point, until their parents or guardians arrive to take them home,” Dominic Cardy, New Brunswick’s Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development said at a press conference on Thursday.

Teachers in Kindergarten to Grade 8 can choose to wear a face mask or a shield, while teachers of higher grades will wear a face mask or shield whenever they are not able to physically distance.

Curtains will be installed as a “physical barrier” between school bus drivers and students, and bus drivers will be required to wear a face mask or shield if physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Students must sit in the same seat on school buses each day, with one child per seat or members of the same household. Students in Grade 6 to 12 can sit two to a seat with face masks.

The provincial government outlined that parents will be responsible for screening their children for COVID-19 symptoms, while educators “will teach students age-appropriate ways to reduce physical contact and promote good hygiene.”

Hand sanitizing stations will be installed in school entrances and in all classrooms, with enhanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces, personal spaces and changing rooms at schools.

Flu shot changes, ‘You need to keep doing well,’ Ontario doctors say

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, is asking people in the province to “be more vigilant” with personal protection, social circles and cohorts, particularly as school is weeks away from resuming.

“You’re doing great, you need to keep doing well,” Dr. Williams said, adding that Ontarians need to be “even better” when students go back to in-class learning.

In terms of the upcoming flu vaccine, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said the province is planning for “wider distribution” this year and plans to order more supply, with particular attention given to residents of long-term care and seniors residences, people over the age of 65 and Ontarians with existing medical conditions.

August 12

6:30 p.m.: Alberta’s top doctor recommends school staff get tested for COVID-19

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, is recommending that all teachers and school staff get tested for COVID-19 once before school starts and regularly throughout the school year.

“Asymptomatic testing of staff in school settings will help us with a baseline understanding for school re-entry and ultimately help us even more closely monitor the virus in the coming year,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

Although this voluntary testing is recommended, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is asking school employees to arrange testing proactively to not overwhelm the provincial testing system right before school starts.

Dr. Hinshaw stressed that anyone who is symptomatic, is a close contact of a known case or anyone who has been in an outbreak setting should get tested right away.

She added that it is recommended that students only get tested if they are symptomatic or have a preexisting condition with similar symptoms to COVID-19.

To date, about one in seven Albertans have been tested at least once. More than 316,000 asymptomatic tests have been conducted in the province and only about 0.1 per cent have come back positive.

5:15 p.m.: ‘This is a call out to Deadpool right now, Ryan we need your help up here’

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 1256E -- Pictured in this screengrab: Actor Ryan Reynolds on May 5, 2020 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON — Episode 1256E — Pictured in this screengrab: Actor Ryan Reynolds on May 5, 2020 — (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

British Columbia Premier John Horgan is calling on Canada’s biggest celebrities to help the province effectively communicate its COVID-19 measures to younger people, who continue to account for an increasing number of infections.

“This is a call out to Deadpool right now, Ryan [Reynolds] we need your help up here, get in touch with us, my number’s on the internet,” Horgan said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Seth Rogen, another outstanding British Columbian, we need to communicate with people who aren’t hearing us, the two of you alone could help us in that regard.”

The provincial leader plans to enlist “prominent” British Columbians and Canadians to help get COVID-19 messages out to the younger age group who “aren’t hearing” the information.

“The good behaviour, the common sense of British Columbians is not consistent across the board,” Horgan said. “If people continue to work around or try and disregard the rules that the rest of British Columbians are following, then we’ll of course take action.”

This comes as the province announced its plan to hire 500 more healthcare professional to increase contact tracing capacity across B.C. Horgan said he supports the federal COVID Alert app but stressed “nothing replaces person-to-person contact.”

The expectations is that these new positions will be in place in September, in preparation for the fall immunization plan, expected to be announced later this month.

“The new people will be joining the teams that we have and will be supporting as surge capacity with our public health teams across the province,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said. “The work that we do in trying to support people, to make sure that they can isolate appropriately, that they have what they need to be able to stay home, to be able to stop these chains of transmission, is incredibly important work.

“It’s the key part that we need to do to keep going for the next few months, to maybe even years until we have an effective vaccine for this virus.” 

3:30 p.m: ‘The harms posed to children by an ongoing absence from school is outweighing the harms presented by COVID-19’

At a press conference on Wednesday Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health, discussed the importance of safely getting students back to school.

“Right now in our province, we must consider that the harms posed to children by an ongoing absence from school is outweighing the harms presented by COVID-19,” Dr. Fitzgerald said.

She went on to encourage parents in the province to model good behaviour for their children, including effective hand washing, mask wearing practices, cough and sneeze etiquette, and maintaining two-metre physical distance with others.

Dr. Fitzgerald went on to say that as schools and workplaces continue to resume operations, a contained outbreak may not results in a closure, but a situation where the source of the infection cannot be identified would be “a little more worrisome.”

New cases in P.E.I. linked to international travel

Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer of Prince Edward Island, said the province has identified five new cases, all essential workers who travelled to P.E.I. on Jul. 30 from outside Canada. They all work in the same industry.

All the men have been self-isolating since arriving in the province and officials anticipate there are very few, if any close contacts.

Dr. Morrison stressed that this shows that the COVID-19 system is “working well” in the province, with the cases identified during routine testing and self-isolation rules have been followed.

1:55 p.m.: Ontario projects $38.5 billion deficit for 2020-2021, following COVID-19 pandemic

The Ontario government is projecting a deficit of $38.5 billion in 2020-21, highlighting the additional financial support the province has provided throughout the COVID-19 health crisis.

“I kept my promise to the people of Ontario…I said I’m not going to spare a penny,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a press conference on Wednesday. “There [are] so many people hurting out there…People and companies are dropping like flies right now.”

Ford went on to say his priority is to “protect” the people of Ontario, and local businesses as the pandemic progresses.

“Dealing with COVID-19 wasn’t a choice for any of us, but how we responded was,” Rod Phillips, Ontario’s Minister of Finance said in a statement. “From the very beginning, we chose to do whatever was necessary to protect the people of Ontario from this pandemic and support them as they deal with the unprecedented impact on their lives.”

This comes as the provincial government announced that municipalities will receive up to $1.6 billion in the first round of emergency funding under the Safe Restart Agreement, in partnership with the federal government, which includes funding for local transit systems.

The premier also teased that Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, will be making an announcement in the near future with additional information on the back to school plan for the province.

Ford said the province needs to be “flexible” and did not shut down the possibility of a phased approach to getting students back to the classroom. He did maintain that Ontario’s plan is the best in the country but said that doesn’t mean “we’re going to be perfect.”

11:40 a.m.: Additional funding to support COVID-19 efforts in Indigenous communities

Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, announced the federal government will be providing $305 million in additional funding to communities through the Indigenous communities support fund.

Miller indicated these funds are being provided to support key initiatives to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19 in First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities.

This funding will also be available to organization living off reserve and people living in urban centres on an application basis, with more details to come.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Miller said there have been particular concerns about COVID-19 in Haida Gwaii, with a community outbreak declared on Jul. 24.

Miller indicated this particular region is “quite sensitive” due to its ecosystem, remoteness, peoples and potential exposure to tourists.

On Jul. 30, the B.C. government restricted non-essential travel to Haida Gwaii.

August 10

5:45 p.m.: COVID-19 questions of the day

‘A crisis decades in the making’: Third Ontario long-term care site to receive more beds

Premier Doug Ford announced that the Ontario government intends to build up to 320 new long-term care beds in Humber River Hospital’s Finch site in Toronto by the end of 2021.

It’s the third project part of the province’s Accelerated Build Pilot Program to help long-term care homes amid, and following, the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, the province announced similar projects in Mississauga and Ajax. 

“As you know, we inherited a broken system. It was a crisis decades in the making and it didn’t start with us. But I can assure you, my friends, we’re going to fix it,” said Ford at the site Humber River Hospital on Tuesday. 

The pilot is part of the government’s plan to spend $1.75 billion in long-term care homes over the next five weeks. As of Tuesday, there have been 331 facilities around the province that have experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, while 1,847 residents have died as well as eight staff members after contracting the respiratory virus, according to the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

“We’re working with our hospital partners and Infrastructure Ontario to deliver new beds in months, not years because there’s no time to waste,” said Ford. 

‘Good for the Russians’: Ford on latest international developments 

The premier responded to news of Russia approving the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine. Ford expressed optimism about the news, but said that he trusts the decision of Canadian and provincial health officials to make the final decision. 

“If they have the vaccine, and they’re going to spread around the world, God bless them. Good for the Russians,” said Ford. “But I would get approval from Health Canada, and our Ministry of Health and Ontario Health. And if they think it’s fine, and the Russians come out first, God bless them, good for them.”

As part of his press briefing, Ford also announced $2 million in funding to the Red Cross to be used toward the relief efforts in Beirut, after the city suffered an explosion that’s led to over 200 fatalities. 

“We stand with the people of Lebanon, and with Ontario’s vibrant Lebanese community during these difficult times. We’ll always have your backs, please stay safe,” said Ford, noting that it’s one of the largest contributions Ontario has ever made to an international relief effort.

As cases rise among students in the U.S., Ford touts Ontario’s back-to-school plan

Ford continues to respond to criticism regarding Ontario’s back-to-school plan, especially concerning class sizes. This time, it’s with a Ontario petition garnering more than 200,000 signatures, and on the cusp of reports that at least 97,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July in the United States, prompting concern about the potential spread among children. 

“I always say: we have the best plan in Canada. People from other provinces want our plan, and we’re going to do everything we can, and I’m not going to spare a penny,” said Ford. “I’m not going to spare anything making sure that we have the safest classrooms in the country.”

Ford said that his team has met with teachers unions over 120 times, along with routine consultations with public health officials and doctors. If school boards come up with a great idea, he wants them to go for it.

“Most importantly, we have to be flexible with the school boards,” said Ford. So if they have a great idea, go for it. … If you want to put a tent up outside, I think it’s great. Just think outside the box and help out. Do whatever you can.”

While there is $30 million in funding for large urban areas to hire more teachers, Ford said he’s willing to allocate more. Even though there will be “bumps in the road,” Ford continues to reassure parents that there’s no one that cares more about safety than himself.

“I understand why parents are anxious, I’m anxious I don’t sleep at night thinking. I called [Ontario’s education minister Stephen Lecce] the other day four times,” said Ford.

“You know I’m onto him like an 800-pound gorilla and he’s only a little guy so you know we are all over it, but in saying that we have the best plan in the country.”

-Bryan Meler, Yahoo News Canada

12:00 p.m.: Top Canadian doctor says timeline approval of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine is “surprising”

The Deputy Chief Public Health Officer of Canada is surprised by how quickly Russia was able to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, which would be a world-wide first. 

“It’s just surprising in terms of when I think the potential vaccine candidate was first discovered or put forward in Russia, compared to the timelines for the various clinical trials, to the point now where I think they’ve announced at least the approval of the vaccine,” said Njoo. “It seems quite short based on what we know about how normal vaccine trials go.”

Njoo said that the Phase 3 trial for a vaccine is the largest and most important since it’s the point when you’re vaccinating tens of thousands of people to be able to examine results over the following months.

“I think it’s important for me personally, but I think for the real experts around the world, to actually be able to get access to the “Russian data,” the evidence, the scientific information to be able to understand exactly what has happened with respect to their trials,” said Njoo. “And then we’ll be able to draw conclusions and have a better idea of the potential of this Russian vaccine.”

Russia’s regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine came less than two months of human testing. Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of his own daughters has since taken it as a volunteer, but the vaccine has not yet completed its final Phase 3 trial, according to Reuters.

Njoo said that the scientific community has solid collaboration worldwide, but politics are a different story.

“I do know that our regulatory scientists and authorities are linked in with international regulatory authorities to share data as rapidly as possible, so that if there were any signals of concern. We expect that to be shared internationally as well,” said Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam on the Russian vaccine, dubbed “Sputnik V.”

Before a vaccine gets approved for use in Canada, its data must be looked over by Health Canada, which is collected through three phases as part of a trial. Tam said that she believes there are currently eight vaccines that are currently in Phase 3 of clinical trials. 

“Regardless of which vaccine, or vaccines successfully obtains regulatory approval for scaling up production, distributing the vaccine worldwide and dispensing it to Canadians will be a very big task,” said Tam. “It is one, we continue to actively plan for. I am cautiously optimistic. A successful vaccine can’t come soon enough for me.”

-Bryan Meler, Yahoo News Canada

11:00 a.m.: ‘How many other Liberal insiders got sweetheart deals?’: Scheer calls more members of Liberals into question

Andrew Scheer continued to question the ethics behind the decisions of Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government, as he spoke at his last planned press conference as leader of Canada’s Conservative Party. 

Along with the WE Charity ethics probe, Scheer spoke about the Liberals’ decision to have the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CHMC) oversee the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program, instead of the Canada Revenue Agency. 

The CMHC contracted out administration of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program to mortgage lender MCAP, which is where the husband of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, is a senior executive. 

“It raises serious questions about all of the government’s pandemic spending. We know that billions of dollars of taxpayers money were handed out in a very short timeframe,” said Scheer. “How many other Liberal insiders got sweetheart deals?”

The contract with MCAP was initially worth $56 million when the rent-relief program was launched in May, but in July it was expanded to $84 million. 

“The Rental Assistance Program is so flawed, that only a handful of businesses have been able to access it. Meanwhile thousands of Canadian businesses who desperately need help or have been left to fend for themselves,” said Scheer. “So who gets held accountable for Justin Trudeau’s failures and never ending scandals? We know that the Prime Minister isn’t going to take responsibility. He never does.”

Scheer said he’s also looking forward to the answers that will come from the testimony of two federal cabinet ministers and the country’s top public servant, who will be questioned as part of the WE Charity ethics probe on Tuesday. 

Trudeau has faced mass scrutiny since the charity was chosen to administer a $912-million student grant program. The organization has close ties with his family, who have been paid for acting as speakers at events. Finance Minister Bill Morneau has also been called into question, because of his family ties with the organization.

Both he and the PM have since apologized for not removing themselves from conversations about granting WE Charity a sole-source contract.

“We’re going to continue to use the committee meetings in the next few days and weeks to try to obtain more of the truths that Canadians can see the type of government Justin Trudeau is leading,” said Scheer.

“No member of cabinet, or the Prime Minister’s inner circle has been fired. In fact, the Liberals seem to be desperately trying to pretend that there’s nothing to see here, but no one is buying Justin Trudeau his latest excuses,” said Scheer.

The Conservative leader says there is a “massive hole” in Trudeau’s story about pushing back on using WE Charity to carry out the student-grant program. Even though the PM said that on May 8 he asked officials to review the agreement, WE was told on May 5 that they can move forward and start spending money, said Scheer. 

Scheer said that today is his last scheduled press conference, but that he might have another one if another “bombshell” comes out, such as one similar to Morneau forgetting $40,000 in forgotten WE Charity expenses. 

The Conservative leader said he would like Morneau to quit, but in the end, it’s all about Trudeau.

“Justin Trudeau had an opportunity to show that he doesn’t put up with scandalous behaviour weeks ago,” said Scheer. “He didn’t do anything then and of course he couldn’t because he can’t hold bill Morneau to a standard that he himself cannot attain. He can’t fire bill Morneau for the exact same types of things that he himself has done.

“So clearly his tolerance for scandal and corruption is very high, and again I challenge Liberal members of Parliament to do something about that. They can control who leads their party.”

-Bryan Meler, Yahoo News Canada

August 7

6:00 p.m.: COVID-19 questions of the day

5:00 p.m.: ‘I don’t want us to go back to prison, it’s too difficult’

Quebec’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said the province is on the cusp of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He went on to stress the importance of people in Quebec need to continue to follow existing public health measure to curb the spread of the virus, with of a more devastating second wave.

“If we lower the transmission in the community, we’re going to lower the impact on healthcare systems,” Dr. Arruda said. “We are in…conditional liberty, but don’t break the conditions because you can go back to prison and I don’t want us to go back to prison, it’s too difficult.”

Quebec reported 108 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and no new deaths. There are 152 patients in hospital, 13 fewer the the previous day.

For a full look at the case counts across each province, check our daily cases blog.

2:00 p.m.: Federal health officials recommend masks as an ‘additional layer of protection’ in schools

Canada’s top doctors are recommending the use of non-medical masks in school settings for staff and students over the age of 10, given that physical distancing may not always be possible.

Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, said masks can be used as an extra layer of protection but it is not the only measure that should be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in school settings.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, indicated more information is required on how efficiently children may transmit COVID-19 to others and health officials need to “keep a close eye on the evolving evidence” as we head into the 2020-2021 school year.

Dr. Tam also commented on recent COVID-19 spread in B.C., a province that has recently seen an increase cases, particularly in Kelowna. Canada’s chief public health officer said that as businesses and services reopen, there is an expectation that there would be an increase in cases of the virus. She added that the goal is to keep the number of cases low and “manageable.”

“People got a little too enthusiastic, that cannot happen,” Dr. Tam said. “If we want schools to reopen safely…we have to, right now, keep the transmission down.”

1:00 p.m.: ‘A trade dispute is the last things anyone needs’

At a press conference on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland condemned the U.S. for re-imposing of 10 per cent on aluminum products during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At a time when we are fighting a global pandemic, working on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border to prevent loss of life and preserve jobs, a trade dispute is the last things anyone needs,” Freeland said. “It will only hurt the economic recovery on both sides of the border.”

“However, this is what the U.S. administration has chosen to do.”

The Deputy Prime Minister went on to announce Canada will impose retaliatory tariffs on $3.6 billion worth of U.S. aluminum products.

“In imposing these tariffs, the United States has taken the absurd decision to harm its own people at a time when its economy is suffering the deepest crisis since the Great Depression,” Freeland said.

“We do not escalate and we do not back down,” she said, about Canada’s efforts.

10:45 a.m.: Ontario government won’t budge on elementary school class sizes

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, continued to defend the province’s back to school plan, following calls from Toronto Public Health to reduce elementary school class sizes.

“As a father, I know there’s nothing more important than the safety of our [children],” Ford said. “My number one goal, what I lose sleep about, is making sure we have a safe environment for the kids to go back to class.”

The premier continued to call Ontario’s plan “the best plan in the entire country” and stressed that school boards were given $30 million to hire more staff.

Lecce added that the province has provided guidance to school boards about using spaces like gyms and cafeterias for instruction, and has encouraged them be “innovative” to look for solutions to repurpose areas for education.

The education minister highlighted that Ontario’s school framework is a “living document” that needs to be “responsive” to risks and emerging COVID-19 information.

August 6

7:52 p.m.: COVID-19 questions of the day

7:15 p.m.: ‘Enough, that’s enough now’

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C’s provincial health officer, indicated that she is particularly concerned about people having larger, private parties, and people going to multiple, smaller private parties in the province.

B.C.’s health minister Adrian Dix had a stern message for people in the province who are hosting or attending these gatherings.

“Enough, that’s enough now,” Dix said. “Refusing to accept that COVID-19 must change everything puts all of us at risk.”

“Large groups, over an extended time period, are the biggest welcome mat there is for COVID-19…It’s time to stop putting out that welcome mat.”

Dr. Henry went on to comment on the resumption of in-class learning in B.C. schools in September, saying that although the virus is going to be around “for many months to come,” she also believes “the cost of keeping our schools closed is too high.”

B.C’s provincial health officer went on to explain that school is much more than book learning, many children rely on these institutions for health care, a meal, and psychological support. Dr. Henry said parents need to look at the school environment very differently than it was back in March.

Earlier in the day, B.C. Premier John Horgan also commented on the provincial school plan, indicating he is aware that some parents, students and teachers want to resume in-class learning, but many are nervous about the whole process.

“We need to focus on getting back to as near to normal as we possibly can,” Horgan said. “We need to find a way for all of that to happen in a safe manner.”

“It’s August, we’re a month away, and what happens over the next 30 days is going to be critical…As we get into the first days or weeks of the school year, we will amend and adapt.”

6:00 p.m.: ‘Embrace the changes that are part of living with COVID-19’

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said she is “cautiously optimistic that Albertans are taking health measures more seriously” after the province only saw 56 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours.

Dr. Hinshaw shared that about one in seven Alberta residents have been tested at some point during the pandemic.

She indicated Albertans between the ages of 20 and 29 remain the “largest driver of growth,” but the rate of growth in this particular age group has “slowed a little.”

“Everyone is still at risk of contracting COVID-19,” Dr. Hinshaw said, adding that COVID-19 “is not behind us.”

For anyone in the province who is hoping for a vaccine as soon as possible, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said we cannot know when or if an effective COVID-19 vaccine will be identified, so everyone must “embrace the changes that are part of living with COVID-19.”

3:45 p.m.: Ontario’s top doctor wants to see less than 50 daily COVID-19 cases next week

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said he would like to see Ontario’s daily case counts get below 50, with the possibility of achieving this milestone sometime next week.

As influenza season approaches, Dr. Williams said the province has enhanced its capacity for flu vaccine for and he hopes parents will bring their children to get the flu shot this fall.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health indicated he would be “surprised” if the eventual COVID-19 vaccine is administered like an annual vaccine but any requirements from the manufacturer will need to be addressed.

In term of the upcoming school year, Dr. Williams suggested the province will be able to get a better understanding of class sizes once in-person instruction resumes, with the assumption that some parents will choose to keep their children in remote learning.

He stressed that if community transmission is high, it is more likely that children will be bring COVID-19 into schools, adding that people need to continue to be “vigilant” in all other settings.

2:00 p.m.: Ford says other Canadians provinces want Ontario’s back to school plan

At a press conference on Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford continued to defend the province’s school plan for the fall, primarily addressing concerns about class sizes in elementary school.s

“We have the best plan, bar none, over any province,” Ford said. “All the other provinces are shouting and screaming, saying we want Ontario’s plan.”

He added that he would like to see class sizes as small as possible, “within certain parameters” and Ontario has the “lowest number of kids in the classroom in the whole country” for Grade 1 to 3.

Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, stressed that the province has “the most comprehensive masking policy,” in addition to additional investment to hire custodians, and the implementation of additional safety and cleaning measures.

He added that the province’s one-metre distance rule in schools in “consistent with virtual every province that has a position with distancing.”

“In Grade 1 to 3, for example, Ontario for 90 per cent of classes are capped at 20 students, the next 10 per cent could vary up to 23,” Lecce said. “We have by far the smallest classroom size in the earliest years in the country, full stop.”

August 05

6:00 p.m.: COVID-19 questions of the day

3:00 p.m.: Alberta adds more funding to support homeless amid COVID-19

The Alberta government announced $48 million in funding for shelters and community organizations that have assisted homeless people amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While it’s unclear how the funding will be divided, it adds to the $25 million that the province announced for similar organizations in March. 

The funds will help shelter people who are sick with, or have been exposed to COVID-19, throughout the winter, but don’t have anywhere else to go.

“We are confident that with this funding, shelters will be able to continue providing the compassionate care that all Albertans deserve,” said community and Alberta’s social services minister Rajan Sawhney on Wednesday.

1:00 p.m.: Ontario announces $83M in funding through the Resilient Communities Fund

Premier Doug Ford announced that his government is investing $83 million through the Ontario Trillium Foundation to provide grants to eligible non-profit organizations. 

The OTF’s Resilient Communities Fund will provide grants of up to $150,000 for organizations such as food banks, child and youth programs and Royal Canadian Legion branches, which will allow them to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our local non-profits, including our local Legion branches and food banks, are the bedrock of our communities and their work will be absolutely critical in helping people to rebuild their lives as we restart our economy and reopen the province,” said Doug Ford. 

The funding will also help organizations implement new approaches to deliver services amid the the upcoming stages of the pandemic.

Ford wants his share of federal government’s vaccine deal

Earlier on Wednesday, the federal government announced that they’ve entered into agreements with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna for supply of their vaccines in development.

Ford said that he hasn’t yet had in-depth talks with Ottawa, but that he expects Ontario to receive “38 per cent of anything the feds distribute throughout the country.”

The premier has held a similar stance throughout the pandemic, which has helped Ontario receive $7 billion of the $19 billion that was distributed to provinces and territories in a deal that was reached in July.

Smaller class sizes in Ontario?

At Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing, Ford was pressed multiple times about class sizes in Ontario, particular for those between kindergarten and Grade 8.

Those in Grade 9-12 will be cohorts of approximately 15 students, meaning that those individuals will only interact with people in their cohorts while in schools. However, Ford has been urged to reconsider implementing a similar approach for younger students, with many citing SickKids’ advice for smaller classrooms being imperative to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Some parents have expressed their discomfort about in-class learning amid COVID-19, and the remote learning option isn’t convenient for parents who can’t leave their kids at home during the day.

Ford said that for those in kindergarten, classrooms will be capped at 30, but that there will be two staff members. He said the ratio is the lowest in the country, since it would mean that there are 15 students for every staff member. But the ratio has been deemed unimportant to some, since there are still concerns about students being in the same classroom.

“We have the lowest amount of kids in J.K. in the country. We have the lowest kids from Grade 1-3. We have 15 kids… for every teacher or ECE. So we’re doing pretty good. Let’s give this a shot.

”And when I hear people from B.C. chanting they want the Ontario plan, it’s not bad,” continued Ford, while mentioning an article he read. “You know, B.C. is doing well but they don’t have half the guidelines that we have, we have some stringent guidelines, more than anyone else in the country. We’re gonna give it everything we can, and make sure that we move forward and pray to God that everyone is safe.”

Ford touted that Ontario has rolled out “more money per student than anywhere else in the country” along with their guidelines in order to ensure a safe restart. He said that more funding might become available as scenarios arise, and that he “won’t hesitate, if we have a second wave and it starts blowing up, to close schools, or whatever it takes to protect the kids.”

The premier also urged people to remember that Ontario’s reopening plan is not only applicable to Toronto.

“Everyone thinks one size fits all. And, you know, we live in a bubble to a certain degree in Toronto and we don’t think anywhere else exists,” said Ford.

“I’m sorry, we’re a fraction of the population, and an important part of the Ontario, but we’re 20 per cent. However, the 80 per cent, who live in the rural areas, they haven’t seen cases in months.”

12:30 p.m.: P.E.I. releases its back-to-school plan with emphasis on ‘cohorts,’ optional mask usage

Prince Edward Island released its back-to-school plan on Wednesday, which sees all of its 62 schools returning full-time come Sept. 8. 

“There’s a lot to consider, and our plan will constantly evolve. But we can make the most of it,” said P.E.I.’s minister of education and lifelong learning Brad Trivers.

Mask use won’t be made mandatory in P.E.I. for students and staff, but will be encouraged in some cases. 

School bus riders and drivers will be “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask, along with staff and those in Grades 7-12 when physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as in hallways, bathrooms, classrooms and emergency situations. Those in kindergarten to Grade 6 “may wear masks in school when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

Students will be placed in “cohorts” in order to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Students will be grouped together and spend their time with other people in the same cohort. Staff such as teachers, educational assistants and cleaners will also be assigned designated cohorts, said Trivers.

The size of cohorts will be up to the 62 schools, who are expected to release customized plans by the end of next week. They’ve been given the mandate to make them as small as possible. 

The creation of cohorts means that students will move throughout the school at different times of the day. That includes arrival and departure times, and also for recess and lunch breaks, which may cause delays. If possible, cohorts will use separate entrances to the building, while children will be screened for symptoms at the beginning of the day. 

If someone does test positive, only close contacts will have to self-isolate and monitor for 14 days. The infected student will be able to return two weeks after their diagnosis, and at least 24 hours after showing their last symptom, other than a residual cough.

10:15 a.m. Canada secures vaccine candidates with Pfizer and Moderna

On Wednesday, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand and Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains announced that the Government of Canada had entered into agreements with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna for supply of their vaccines in development.

“We are increasingly focused on the next stage of our recovery,” said Anand.

Anand said that the government has been engaged with both domestic and international suppliers, in an effort to diversify the supply chain, much like they have done for PPE procurement throughout the pandemic.

“I am pleased to announce that the Government of Canada has entered into agreements with Pfizer and Moderna to secure millions of doses of their vaccines candidates,” said Anand. “We are among the first countries to enter into these agreements.”

Anand explained that trials for the Pfizer vaccine candidates are ongoing in Germany and the U.S., and the New England Journal of Medicine recently touted Moderna’s vaccine candidates.

“Studies continue in the United States, indicative of our aggressive approach to secure vaccines now, so Canadians are at the front of the line when vaccines become available,” said Anand.

Anand stressed that any potential vaccine candidate will take time to develop, properly test, and deploy, so the government wishes to expedite the process as much as is safely possible.

This also includes sourcing relevant supplies like syringes, alcohol swabs, and other supplies which will allow for the final stages of vaccine production and safe administration of the vaccine. 

All vaccines will require approval from Health Canada before delivery. Anand says that if all goes well, delivery is expected in 2021. Anand said that further discussions are happening, but is not currently discussing any further contracts with other companies at this time.

“Canadians can rest assured that we will leave no stone unturned to keep them healthy and safe,” said Anand.

Country also exploring ‘Made-in-Canada’ options

Minister Bains also announced two key task forces for the country’s fight against COVID-19: a vaccine task force and a treatment task force. The vaccine task force is working to identify vaccine candidates outside of Canada, including the recent developments by Pfizer and Moderna, as well as “made-in-Canada” solutions. 

Support for Canadian vaccines includes $56 million to support clinical studies and pre-clinical trials for Ottawa-based Variation Biotechnologies Inc. (VBI) Vaccines, and further funds for IMV, which is establishing a completely Canadian supply chain. Bains stressed that investment in Canadian solutions is critical. 

“The strategy is focused on domestic production, supporting Canadian scientists, and pursuing promising international solutions,” said Bains.

The therapeutic task force will be focused on the treatment of COVID-19 for those who have contracted the virus.

Bains said his current focus is on building domestic production capabilities, and not on looking at whether the vaccine will be mandatory yet. The issue of whether the vaccine will be mandatory will be determined once a vaccine is secured, and discussed with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Minister of Health Patty Hajdu.

Anand says her team is following the advice of the vaccine task force as well as Dr. Tam, and pursuing talks with companies on their recommendations.

“There’s not one single solution to carry Canadians out of the pandemic. Multiple efforts must be made, and followed.” Anand said that the vaccine will be an added protection against COVID-19, alongside wearing masks, social distancing and staying home.

“We all want a silver bullet, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” said Anand.

Anand said that additional prospects must be explored, and the therapeutic and vaccine task forces will help guide towards those answers.

August 04

7:15 p.m. COVID-19 questions of the day

7:00 p.m.: B.C. officials plead for the public to not attend private parties

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C’s provincial health officer, expressed concern about the number of new cases in the province, totalling 146 over the past four days. She said this is a result of exposures that happened up to two weeks ago and the source of these cases is varied, including travel within the province, within Canada and internationally, and transmission between work colleagues.

B.C.’s health minister Adrian Dix stressed that people should not consider going to any private parties at this point in the pandemic.

“If you’re being invited to a private party and you don’t know who’s there, and you don’t know the guest list and you don’t know the numbers, [it’s] something I strongly urge you not to attend,” Dix said.

Dr. Henry said she has been looking for zero new case numbers “for a long time” but the bigger concern is about cases “popping up from nowhere,” where public health officials cannot effectively and efficiently determine the source of infection.

Students will not be required to wear a mask

B.C.’s provincial health officer said that masks may be important in “certain aspects of school” but the province has no intention of making masks mandatory in classrooms. Dr. Henry went on to say there is “no evidence” to support a mandatory masking rule in classrooms, contrary to the measures being put in place in other Canadian provinces.

For parents who may be apprehensive about sending their children back to school, she stressed that in-person education can provide lessons that children can only get in these settings.

“We know that some children will fall behind and will never catch up,” Dr. Henry said, adding that the 60 student “learning group” limit in elementary and middle schools will be “far less” for many children.

In terms of before and after school care, B.C.’s top doctor said each family will need to look at how these activities can happen on a “much smaller scale” for the time being.

5:20 p.m.: Saskatchewan will not require masks in schools

The Saskatchewan government revealed its school plan for fall, which will see students and staff return to the classroom in September.

The plan including assigned seating on school buses, with students from the same household seated together.

Parents and caregivers are being asked to monitor their children for any COVID-19 symptoms, and they should remain at home if any are present. There will also be a dedicated quarantine area in every school where a student who becomes symptomatic will wait to be picked up by a parent or caregiver.

Schools must implements staggered recess, lunch, and other class transition times, while physical contact will be limited “whenever possible,” including using outdoor spaces for instruction and changes to classroom configurations to minimize contact.

In-person assemblies will be prohibited and schools must reduce the number of shared supplies between students.

Deputy Premier and Minister of Education, Gordon Wyant, confirmed that masks will not be a mandatory measure when school initially resumes.

“We think that’s the best practice for Saskatchewan, at least at the beginning,” Wyant said.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health, officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, said the province needed to balance the benefits of mask use in schools with some of the potential challenges, particularly for younger students.

Both Shahab and Wyant stressed that additional measures can be added based on the evolution of community transmission in Saskatchewan.

Ahead of the restart of school, Wyant announced that effective Tuesday, capacity in child care centres will increase from a maximum of 15 children per space to 25 children per space.

4:30 p.m.: Ontario premier defends back to school plan

At a press conference on Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended the province’s back to school plan, including the decision to not restrict the number of students in each elementary school classroom.

“We went with some of the brightest minds in the world,” Ford said. “The number one concern is to make sure our kids are safe when they go back.”

The premier went on to compare the Ontario and B.C. back-to-school plans, highlighting that the western province has “learning groups” of 60 students in elementary and middle school, and 120 students in high school. Ontario will cohort high school students to up to 15 people, with no cohorts for younger students.

Masks are not required in B.C. schools but are mandatory for Grade 4 to 12 students and school staff in Ontario.

The premier also stressed that parents do not need to sent their children to school if they are not comfortable, opting for remote, online learning instead.

‘We’re going to be a lot more ready for the fall’

Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer of Prince Edward Island, said conversations about the second wave of COVID-19 are “ongoing” but the provincial health system is prepared for an increase in cases.

“We’re going to be a lot more ready for the fall than we would have been in March,” Dr. Morrison said, adding that this time has enabled the province to make sure the “fundamental” measures are in place.

P.E.I. plans to release details on its back to school plans on Wednesday but the provincial chief public health officer said the goal is to minimize the impact additional COVID-19 case would have on the function of the school, while prioritizing the health of staff and students.

2:00 p.m.: Health officials are ‘planning for the longer term or the next two to three years’ with COVID-19

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said although there is hope that an effective vaccine for COVID-19 will be a “silver bullet solution,” using language from the World Health Organization’s director, there is still a lot to determine about the virus.

“We don’t know at this stage how effective the vaccine is going to be,” Dr. Tam said at a press conference on Tuesday.

She indicated there are many vaccine candidates globally that are in phase 3 of clinical trials, which looks at the safety and efficacy, or immune response, to the vaccine.

Dr. Tam said at this point, it is still not known if an effective vaccine will prevent someone from actually being infected or if it will just prevent serious illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19.

She also stressed that it’s “likely” there won’t be enough vaccine for the general population and prioritization will be required.

“The public health measures that we have in place, the sort of personal daily measures that we take, are going to have to continue,” Dr. Tam said. “We’re planning, as a public health community, that we’re going to have to manage this pandemic, certainly over the next year…planning for the longer term or the next two to three years, during which the vaccine may play a role but we don’t know yet.”

“I do agree with Dr. Fauci in the United States that we can be cautiously optimistic but…it’s one important layer of protection.”

Canada’s chief public health officer was also asked about any specific parameters that need to be met for officials to put more restrictions in place.

Dr. Tam said specific “triggers” have not been set yet but the positivity rate is one metric to look at. She indicated that a five per cent positivity rate is “a warning sign.” Dr. Tam also said the reproductive number is a key factor and if it goes beyond one and keep escalating “that’s not a good sign.”

11:30 a.m.: Masks mandatory for some students, all staff in Alberta schools

Adriana LaGrange, Alberta’s Minister of Education, announced that face masks will be mandatory for students in Grades 4-12 and all staff for the 2020-2021 school year.

Staff will be required to wear a mask in all settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Students must wear a mask in all shared and common areas, such as hallways, school buses.

“Masks are not required inside the classroom when students are seated and the teacher is distanced from the students, though they can still be worn if the student or teacher chooses,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said at a press conference on Tuesday.

She added that desks should be “as far apart as possible” in classrooms and students should not be facing each other.

Masks are optional for younger students in Alberta, which Dr. Hinshaw indicated is because of emerging evidence that children who are 10 or older may be more likely to transit COVID-19 than younger children, in additional to compliance difficulties with younger students.

The Alberta government will be providing every student, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, with two reusable masks. The same number of reusable masks will also be provided to teachers, support staff, school staff and school bus drivers. Additional single-use masks will be available at schools.

Teachers, support staff, school staff and bus divers will also receive one reusable face shield, which can be used at the discretion of the individual.

“While face shields can help reduce exposure they are not equivalent to masks,” minister LaGrange said, adding that a mask must still be worn with a face shield.

Dr. Hinshaw stressed that masks are only one part of the public health approach put in place for the upcoming school years.

“Masks alone do not keep kids and schools safe from COVID-19,” she said. “Indeed, no single precaution or public health measure will eliminate all risks of exposure in schools or any other setting.”

10:20 a.m.: Windsor-Essex will stay in Stage 2

The Ontario government announced the Windsor-Essex region will remain in Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan, for the time being.

“We are working hard with our federal and local partners to provide the communities in Windsor-Essex with the support they need during their reopening,” Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, said in a statement. “With the health and safety of the people of Ontario our absolute top priority, Windsor-Essex will remain in Stage 2 until the data indicates they can safely move to Stage 3.”

The government indicated that outbreaks in the agriculture sector are a particular concern in the region and “pose unique challenges.”

The province has deployed the Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) to Windsor-Essex for incident management support and the government is also implementing a three-point plan to support the region’s health unit. This includes on-site testing, access to employment benefits and supports, and public health guidance specific to the agri-food setting.

“We continue to take action to address outbreaks in the region and provide our farmers and agribusinesses in Windsor-Essex with the help, tools and resources necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of their workers and employees,” Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said in a statement. “We are all working together to fight the spread of COVID-19 while protecting our vital food supply chain and the health and safety of the people who put food on our tables.”

July 31

3:00 p.m.: COVID-19 ‘just waiting for an invitation to a party’

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, reminded the public that “COVID-19 is all around us” just before the long weekend.

“Summer doesn’t make the virus go away,” Dr. Tam said. “It is right there, just waiting for an invitation to a party or gathering.”

She added that people should plan to keep their groups small and Canadians should “not let their guard down.”

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is also reminding the public that traveller restrictions are still in place across the country and will remain in place until at least Aug. 21.

These restrictions prevent foreign travellers, including Americans, from entering Canada for non-essential purposes like visiting friends, sightseeing and checking on a seasonal home.

$58.6 million for temporary foreign workers

More details were revealed about the $58.6 million the federal government is committing to strengthen the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program.

It includes $6 million allocated for outreach to workers through support organizations and $16.2 million to strengthen inspections of farms. The federal government will invest $35 million to improve health and safety on farms, including improvement to living quarters, personal protective equipment and sanitation stations.

At a press conference on Friday, Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, said most employers follow the rules, but indicated there are reported cases of inappropriate behaviour and unsafe working conditions.

Qualtrough went on to speak about Canadians being transitioned from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to EI in September. She said the change will happen as Canada moves into a different phase of the COVID-19 pandemic: the “recovery phase” and the “economic restart phase.”

“It will look and feel like the CERB, but it won’t be the CERB,” she said, adding that the new system will be have “less disincentive to work.”

1:45 p.m.: New measures for restaurants, bars in Ontario

The Ontario government announced that it is implementing additional measures for restaurants, bars, and other food or drink establishments, as Toronto and Peel move into Stage 3 of reopening.

All patrons of these settings will be required to be seated at all times in both indoor and outdoor areas with limited exceptions, like travelling to the washroom. Bars, restaurants and tour boat operators will be required to keep client logs for a period of 30 days, which must be shared with the medical officer of health or an inspector under the Health Protection and Promotion Act on request.

These additional measures come after Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter to the province earlier this month requesting additional precautions for restaurants, bars, and other food or drink establishments.

“These additional measures will help reduce close contact between individuals in these settings, and support case and contact tracing, thereby limiting the spread of COVID-19,” Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, said in a statement.

What happens if a student tests positive for COVID-19?

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health, provided additional information on the fall school plan, primarily concerns about classes being too large and students not being able to distance properly. She said maintaining a physical distance of two metres is “ideal,” but less crucial for younger students. Evidence shows that kids under the age of 10 don’t get infected as much, don’t usually have severe outcomes and don’t tend to spread the virus to others as much.

“We’ll have to monitor how we can improve things as we go along,” she said.

The associate chief medical officer of health said it will be an “extremely rare” situation where a whole school will need to be closed because of COVID-19 cases. She explained that if one student tests positive, the whole classroom, including the teacher, will get tested. People in that household, friends and other close contacts the student has been “around a lot” will be asked to stay home.

Dr. Yaffe said if there are two cases, each in a different class or cohort, public health will look to see if they are linked or if they were infected outside the school setting.

Staying safe over the long weekend

As Ontario prepares for a long weekend, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he doesn’t want people gathering in large groups, having parties and acting like COVID-19 is “over.”

Dr. Yaffe added that people should not mix in large gatherings, with regions like Ottawa reporting many cases linked to parties indoors.

She said if cases of this nature continue to come up, the province will have to look at what can be done to mitigate those situations.

12:30 p.m.: Case management app launches in Ontario, funds for temporary foreign workers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made several announcements on Friday morning, including the launch of the COVID Alert app in Ontario.

Each user will be assigned a random code and the app “pings” other users via Bluetooth when phones come within a two-metre range. If someone tests positive for the virus, the code can be uploaded to a central server and stored for 15 days.

Trudeau stressed it is entirely voluntary to use, but the more people use it the better COVID-19 cases can be traced and it can help slow future spread of the virus. He added that the app does not collect names, addresses, locations or other personal information.

The prime minister said the goal is to have other provinces come on board in the “coming weeks.”

Trudeau also announced $59 million in funding to protect migrant workers on Canadian farms, including support to improve overall living conditions.

He added that in many cases Canada has “let those communities down,” including farmers who haven’t been living up to the standards and expectations for temporary foreign workers, stressing that there are “lots of changes we need to make.”

More details on Canada Emergency Response Benefit to come

The prime minister also said Canadians can expect to receive more details on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in the near future.

“For people who need this program, don’t worry, no one will be left behind,” Trudeau said.

He indicated the goal is to transfer everyone from the CERB to EI. For anyone who does not qualify for EI, the prime minister said a similar, parallel benefit will be implemented. There will also be a sickness and caregivers’ benefit for Canadians not covered at work if they, or their parents or children, get COVID-19 and need to stop working.

The prime minister also announced the commercial rent assistance program is being extended for the month of August.

‘That is the element that’s not happening’

A day after his testimony before the House of Commons finance committee on the WE Charity controversy, related to the Canada Student Service Grant, the prime minister said the federal government is still working to support young people during the COVID-19 pandemic but “unfortunately” they will not be able to get a credit for the current volunteer work taking place.

“That is the element that’s not happening so far,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister went on to reiterate his statements from Thursday afternoon, admitting he should have “removed [himself] entirely” from the discussion on the organization that would deliver the program.

July 30

7:45 p.m.: B.C. health officials ‘delighted’ to see action to stop ‘Alaska loophole’

At a press conference on Thursday, B.C.’s top health officials said they are “delighted” and it is a “great step” that the federal government have put stricter rules in place to prevent the “Alaska loophole” being used by travellers from the U.S.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced that as of Jul. 31 at 12:01 am PDT, additional measures will be put in place for in-transit foreign travellers. These individuals will be issued a “hang tag” for their vehicle to be attached to their rear view mirror for the duration of their trip to or from Alaska, which will show the date they must depart Canada. The back of the tag will have details on how to comply with the public health and safety measures to follow.

In-transit foreign nationals must enter Canada at one of five CBSA ports of entry:

  • Abbotsford-Huntingdon, B.C.

  • Coutts, Alberta

  • Kingsgate, B.C.

  • North Portal, Saskatchewan

  • Osoyoos, B.C.

The CBSA stated in a release that travel will also be limited to use of “the most direct route,” which will avoid all parks, leisure sites and tourism activities.

B.C.’s health minister Adrian Dix said although he is thankful these measures are being put in place, travellers need to remember to not travel, either domestically or internationally, if they are sick.

“It’s just not appropriate ever,” he said.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C’s provincial health officer, also spoke about the information the province is able to receive from people who fly into B.C. She indicated the way the systems work, the booking system and the system that captures flight manifests, can make things difficult

“What’s actually in the booking system and flight manifests don’t always line up,” Dr. Henry said.

She said it often takes days to receive the information and if someone organized their trip through an online aggregate system or a travel agent, there is a name but there isn’t always contact information for the individual.

‘This is going to be our COVID summer’

In advance of the long weekend, Dr. Henry said it’s important for people to “socialize safely.”

“This is going to be our COVID summer but we know how to do it,” she said. “This is how we can play safe and stay safe.”

The provincial health officer stressed it’s still important for everyone to follow the public health rules and keep groups small.

 “We all know somebody who has bent the rules to make it work for them and that’s not a surprise,” Dr. Henry said, adding that people have a tendency to think they’re immune unless they personally see the impacts of the virus.

“Help them get back on track,” she said.

Dix said to anyone who is thinking of joining a large group or party this weekend, “this is not the weekend for that, next week isn’t either and the one after that isn’t either.”

2:00 p.m.: Ontario will bring students, teachers back to the classroom

The Ontario government announced its plan to reopen schools in September, which will allow students and teachers to return to in-personal instruction.

Hours of instruction, class sizes

Elementary school children will be able to return to school five days a week, with five hours of instruction a day, beginning on Sept. 8.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said most secondary schools will reopen under an adapted model and students will be in cohorts of up to 15 people. These groups will alternate between in-person and online learning with at least 50 per cent of instructional time spent in the classroom. Indirect and direct student contacts should be limited to about 100 students in the school.

Lecce said lower-risk schools will be able to reopen with a full return to class five days a week.

Ontario mask policy in schools a first for Canada

Masks will be mandatory for staff and students from Grades 4-12, with exceptions for anyone with a medical reasons to not wear a mask. Masks will be optional for younger students. The masking measure will be implemented in conjunction with maintaining a physical distance of one metre in schools.

What the province expects from schools, teachers

Ford said the province will be providing $309 million immediately to hire 500 new public health nurses, 900 custodians, funds for testing, health and safety training, and required personal protective equipment for students, staff and bus drivers.

The education minister said parents have the choice to send their children to school if and when they are comfortable. There is an expectation that live, online teacher-led and synchronized learning is available for all students.

Premier Ford indicated teachers and staff “always” have the right to not go into the classroom if they are not comfortable but “we all need the teachers to come into the class, when possible.”

Minister Lecce said that if any teachers cannot be in a classroom, there is an expectation that they can teach online.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said there is no plan to implement regular, formal testing of teachers because it will “complicate the picture” if there are no known or suspected cases in the environment.

“I think a lot of people think that testing is going to really solve the whole problem and it isn’t,” Dr. Yaffe said. “It’s one component of a response.”

“If you’re testing in a population that doesn’t have very much COVID, you’ll get false positives almost half the time…Testing will not actually achieve anything other than take resources away from other places they need to be.”

She added that everyone needs to be educated on the symptoms to look for so they don’t go to school or work if any are present.

The Ontario government will also allow licensed child care centres to open at full capacity as of Sept. 1, including before- and after-school programs. Staff must wear masks at all time, and students and staff will be screened before entering the facility.

Ontario vs. B.C. school plan

Ontario’s announcement comes after B.C. revealed its school plans for in-class instruction. B.C. will be limiting learning group in elementary and middle school to 60 students, increasing the limit to 120 students in secondary schools.

Self-directed learning will be provided in conjunction with in-class learning, if required, and parents who don’t want to send their children back to school can register for online or distributed learning, or home schooling.

Students, teachers and other school staff are not required to wear a mask but it is recommended that older students wear a non-medical mask when riding the bus.

Follow our province-by-province breakdown of the school plans as they are announced, here.

July 29

6:00 p.m.: COVID-19 questions of the day

3:30 p.m.: B.C. unveils back-to-school plan for the fall with focus on ‘learning groups’

British Columbia officials have announced that most students in the province will be returning back to school full-time come Sept. 8.

In order to limit and control the spread of COVID-19, schools will be tasked with creating cohorts or “learning groups” for the fall.

Kids and teachers in elementary and middle school will be in learning groups of no more than 60 people, while those in secondary school will be in groups of up to 120. Each cohort is expected to comprise of multiple classrooms.

Outside of the classroom, children will only be able to interact with those in their cohorts, such as during breaks and in commons areas like gyms, libraries, on school buses and playgrounds. 

“The potential for transmission will be limited,” said B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on the learning groups. “The ability for public health to quickly complete contract racing will be far easier and far less disruptive.”

Schools and their boards will be responsible for organizing schedules that will help limit the number of interactions between different cohorts, such as with different bell schedules.

The elementary and middle school cohorts are smaller because younger children are less likely to be mindful of physical distancing. Even though younger children have a smaller chance of contracting and spreading the virus, older students are better able to better identify their symptoms, said Henry.

If COVID-19 does enter a cohort, in a worst case scenario everyone will be asked to self-isolate, be monitored and be tested.

“We were the only jurisdiction in Canada that brought students back into the classroom province-wide before the end of the school year and this has given us valuable information that we are using to develop our plans, ensuring health and safety at schools remain paramount,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming on Wednesday.

$45.6M in additional funding for schools

Fleming announced that an additional $45.6 million will be provided to schools in B.C. to enhance cleaning regimes, to hire more cleaning staff, to add more hand washing stations and to provide reusable face masks to teachers and students.

Students and staff won’t be required to wear masks, but it will be provided upon request to older students and staff when there’s interaction taking place outside of a learning group, or when social distancing isn’t possible, such as when riding the bus.

Opportunities for large gatherings, such as assemblies and sports tournaments, won’t be taking place. Students will also be screened before entering the school, a process in which they’ll go through a list of possible symptoms. It’s a practice that Henry said was useful when they reopened schools in June. 

For students who are immunocompromised, they’ll need to work with their family physician and school board to find the best approach come the fall.

Fleming also announced that $3 million of the additional funding will support remote learning, so students can have access to technologies that they need. Additional funding will also be made available for children with disabilities and those with complex learning needs.

Learning from June

Henry said that there is no “magic number” to look out for in the fall.

When B.C. opened schools in June, about 200,000 students voluntarily attended classes. At least two teachers were infected, but there was no transmission to students or wide-spread transmission in any school setting.

“I don’t necessarily expect there to be no cases in schools. I think it’s inevitable there probably will be some. But that’s not the biggest concern, as we say, it’s more as we’re opening up society and having more context,” said Henry.

“One thing we have learned from this pandemic is we cannot predict the future. We are planning for a number of scenarios. And if we start to see community transmission that puts this at risk, we will need to adjust the school schedule as well.”

The return to school, Henry said, is especially important for the health of students and their families who have faced the burden of the pandemic. It might leave an impact that can last “many, many years,” because of how they might have fallen behind both economically and in terms of their education.

“We know that there’s been an increase in anxiety, there’s been an increase in mental health issues with young people, the number of people calling children helpline, and the families that have had challenges in managing with children at home,” said Henry.

“Schools are essential not only to our economy but to our society and our community. And this is our safest way that we can move forward.”

Parents who don’t want their child to attend in-person classes have the option to register their child for online and distributed learning (based on program availability) or home-schooling.

Teachers federation voices complaints

The B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the government’s announcement on Wednesday.

“Based on what the government released today their plan isn’t ready yet. It needs more work,” wrote Teri Mooring, the president of BCTF.

The teachers federals wants smaller class sizes to ensure all of the “children, youth, and adults that share our school spaces can adhere to the physical distancing protocols we have all been asked to maintain during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They also requested more consultation with school districts and local unions, as well time in September for in-service training and health and safety orientations to help with the transition.

On Wednesday, a group of experts part of SickKids also released new proposed guidelines for reopening schools come September, including recommendations like staggered lunch times and mandatory masks for older students. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that his education minister will take the guidelines into consideration as he gets ready to unveil his back-to-school plan this week.

1:00 p.m.: ‘We can’t take our eye off the ball for a second’: Ontario continues to reopen

On Friday, Toronto and Peel will be allowed to join 31 other public health units by moving into Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan. Windsor-Essex will remain the only region in Stage 2, as it continues to deal with agri-farm outbreaks. 

Stage 3 allows businesses such as restaurants and bars to be able to provide dine-in services, while gyms and fitness centres can also reopen, among other services.

“For our friends in Windsor-Essex, we’re asking the people there for a little more time and patience. They entered stage 2 a little later than everyone else. So the health officials just need a bit more time to evaluate the numbers there. And I’m confident that we will get Windsor-Essex there very soon,” said Ford.

The news comes as Ontario reports 76 cases on Wednesday. It’s the first time that it has not reported a triple-digit case increase since March 24. 

“Today’s numbers should give us some hope we’re on the right path,” said Ford.

“That’s impressive. But again, we can’t take our eye off the ball for a second. It will come back and bite us in the backside with a second wave like we’ve never seen before.”

Independent review of Ontario’s long-term care system underway

Premier Doug Ford’s government announced that they’ve launched the Independent Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commision to evaluate the shortcomings of the system throughout the pandemic. 

“My friends, as I always say our government and create this problem, but I can promise you we’re going to fix it,” said Ford. 

The report will be due by April 30, 2021, and will be led by three commissioners. Frank N. Marrocco will serve as the chair, after practicing law for 33 years in a stretch that included being appointed to the Superior Court of Justice in 2005. Angela Coke is a former senior executive of the Ontario Public Service, while Dr. Jack Kitts served as President and CEO of the Ottawa Hospital from 2002 till his retirement in June 2020. 

Ford and his government stressed that the review will be independent, but did not clarify if the recommendations that can be made by the Commision will be binding.

While the independent review can’t bring forward legal charges, Ford said there are a plethora of eyes that will be looking into situation, such as the the chief coroner, ombudsman, auditor general, and possibly the Ontario Provincial Police. 

“If they find there’s been neglect, then they should be charged. It’s as simple as that,” said Ford, referring to long-term care homes that potentially failed their staff and residents.

As of Wednesday, there are currently 15 active outbreaks among long-term care facilities around the province, while 310 have been resolved, according to the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

Throughout the pandemic, 1,844 residents have died in relation to COVID-19, along with eight staff members. The Canadian Armed Forces, after providing assistance in various LTCs across the province, also provided a report in May that included “horrific” claims of cockroaches and fecal contamination in some homes, among other problems.

Price gouging, differential treatment continues across Ontario

On Wednesday, Ford continued to respond to various regions in Ontario that have shown deferential treatment toward residents of other parts of the province.

Last week, Ford addressed reports of Barrie and Orillia issuing $50 in an additional parking fee to non-residents at waterfront locations. 

After Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman doubled down on the higher parking prices, Ford on Wednesday said that the region is losing business as a result. He noted that one of his staff members said that he won’t return to the area until the prices go back to normal.

“I don’t want to knock him. He thinks he’s doing the right thing,” said Ford. “But overall in the big picture. It’s hurting, it’s hurting businesses. Usually these places like Barrie, Orillia, Huntsville… they want tourists there and want them to spend their money.”

On Tuesday, St. Catharines also decided to restrict access to some of its waterfront, such as beaches, to Niagara residents only.

“I don’t think it’s a fair thing, you know we’re all paying taxes. Everyone’s pitching and everyone’s helping out,” said Ford.

“I understand the situation … but everything’s going to level off. One day, those regions are going to be begging for people to come, the businesses will be begging, restaurants will be begging for people to show up there. I think we have to work together and work through it. … I just don’t believe in this heavy handed approach all the time.”

8:45 a.m.: Toronto and Peel will move into Stage 3

The Ontario government has announced that Toronto and Peel will be moving to Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan on Friday.

Windsor-Essex will remain in Stage 2 as provincial health officials continue to evaluate when it is safe for the region to join the rest of the province in Stage 3.

“While more restaurants, theatres and businesses can hang up their Open for Business sign, we’re asking everyone to follow public health advice and act responsibly,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “We have made tremendous progress that allows us to return to something a little closer to our normal lives this summer, but we are not out of the woods yet.”

The provincial government also indicated it is “supportive” of proposals by Toronto officials to limit close contact at restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments.

How do you feel about Canada’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic? Tell us in the comments below?

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