Ontario revises COVID isolation rules for health-care workers – Toronto Star

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With Omicron cases rapidly rising in Ontario and other provinces, public health experts and policy-makers are revising quarantine and isolation rules, due to newly emerging data on the variant and to avoid staffing shortages at hospitals.
On Wednesday, the Ontario government announced hospital workers who have been in close contact with someone who is COVID-positive don’t have to stay home and isolate, as long as they test negative daily for 10 days.
And earlier on Wednesday, the U.K. government announced the reduction of COVID-19 self-isolation periods from 10 to seven days for people who test negative through a rapid test two days in a row — a decision experts lauded as “significant.”
Ontario’s decision to revise isolation protocol for health-care workers comes after reports of a rising number of hospital staff who have recently tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to the virus in the community, prompting worries about critical staffing shortages that could impact patient care.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the province wants to have enough rapid tests for hospital staff exposed to the virus so they could test themselves every day instead of having to isolate for 10 days, as the current policy requires.
“We are partnering with our local public health agencies, are learning from their experience, and are anticipating a rise in cases where we’re going to have to provide more broad advice to the public, both on the testing strategy (and) the isolation strategy,” Moore said.
He added he anticipates a “20 to 30 per cent risk of absenteeism” due to COVID-19 exposure if asymptomatic hospital staff who are close contacts of COVID-positive patients have to stay home from work.
Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the guidance now is to have hospital staff take a PCR test as soon as they’re exposed to COVID-19, and take another one seven days after. Meanwhile, they can continue working if they test negative every day through the self-administered rapid antigen tests and are asymptomatic.
For hospital workers living with someone who is COVID-positive, the lab-based PCR tests have to be taken immediately, as well as days seven and 14 or 15. They also have to take a rapid test daily and for 10 days afterwards.
Dr. John Granton, a critical care physician and interim medical director of Health Services at University Health Network in Toronto, said discussions have already been underway at UHN to revise rules for COVID-19 exposures, particularly for health-care workers who are now rapidly coming into contact with the virus, forcing them to stay home.
“We’re seeing a lot of staff who are testing positive, or more commonly have a community exposure,” Granton said, adding hospitals have been debating the balance of the theoretical risk of a COVID-19 exposure versus the risk of not being able to support clinical programs or the needs of patients.
He said for people with a sick family member living at home, the likelihood of testing positive is higher, as contact is more frequent and ventilation tends to be poor at home. But those who get exposed to COVID-19 through a limited encounter with a patient or a co-worker, especially in hospitals that are generally better ventilated, are less likely to get sick.
Prior to Ontario’s recent recommendation, staff exposed to the virus from home often have to isolate for at least 20 days (10 additional days after the quarantine period for the COVID-positive household member passes).
Other provinces have also expressed worry about having too many staff off work due to virus exposure. New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, Jennifer Russell, said her province is considering test-to-stay policies for hospital workers, while reports say Quebec is considering keeping asymptomatic COVID-positive nurses at work to care for patients who have also been exposed.
Quebec’s proposal has been met by pushback, however, from unions representing the province’s nurses, who said they are worried about exposing other essential workers to the virus by keeping asymptomatic staff at work.
For the general population, isolation periods could also be revised given the U.K.’s “significant” decision to change theirs, Granton said. He added the U.K.’s guidance is likely related to emerging data — including a study from Oslo, Norway — that shows the incubation period for Omicron may be shorter than other COVID-19 variants.
“If you haven’t become sick by day seven, it’s not likely you’re going to become sick,” Granton said. Previously, other variants’ incubation period — the time it takes from exposure to become sick — was up to a week. But new research shows illness from Omicron could develop three days or less after exposure.
Early evidence from other countries also shows Omicron has no significant impact on child hospitalizations, which Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said is promising. He added he doesn’t see a reason to delay the return to school after the December holidays.
Data is still emerging about the Omicron variant, Moore said, and the situation could change in the coming weeks. Ontario reported 4,383 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, a 132.5 per cent increase from last week’s average, and cases are expected to rise.

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Canada's Weston family selling off Selfridges luxury store chain – CBC News

  1. Canada’s Weston family selling off Selfridges luxury store chain  CBC News
  2. Weston family sells Selfridges, capping transformative year for retail and food empire  The Globe and Mail
  3. Westons sell iconic retailer Selfridges to Thai-Austrian group  BNN
  4. Selfridges sold to Thai and Austrian billionaires in £4bn deal  Redditch Advertiser
  5. Selfridges sold as part of £4bn deal  The Guardian
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Thousands of long-term-care residents, workers need COVID-19 booster shots – Toronto Star

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Thousands of vulnerable long-term-care residents, and the workers who care for them, have not received a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, raising fears that they may again bear the brunt as COVID cases surge in the province.
Health experts say administering more boosters to those who live and work in long-term care is essential to protecting immune-compromised residents and preventing staffing shortages, which can lead to the social isolation and neglect of residents.
“The biggest concern right now is what happens when these workers get mild cases (of COVID) and then have to isolate, presumably all within a very short period of time,” said Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term-care researcher and associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University. “Who will be left to care for the residents?”
According to Ontario’s Ministry of Long-Term Care, as of Dec. 22, 84 per cent of all eligible long-term-care residents, and 43 per cent of all eligible long-term care staff, had received their third dose. In total, there are about 70,000 residents in long-term care, and 100,000 staff, which includes cleaners, cooks, personal support workers and nurses.
On Thursday, the ministry released a memo saying fully vaccinated staff in long-term care, who are a high-risk contact, may return to work after a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and if they are asymptomatic. Tests to stay at work will be implemented in homes if there’s a critical staffing shortage. The previous day, the government made a similar announcement regarding hospital workers.
The Ontario Long Term Care Association — representing 70 per cent of the province’s long-term-care operators including private, not-for-profit, charitable and municipal— says homes are helping staff get boosted as they become eligible.
The best way to increase boosters for residents, staff and essential caregivers is to ensure homes have vaccines for on-site clinics, says CEO Donna Duncan. “Should a home lack the staffing capacity to administer the vaccines on site, and if their local public health unit is unable to help, they are encouraged to reach out to community contacts to help prioritize their staff and essential caregivers for vaccinations at hospitals, family health teams and pharmacies.”
The ministry says it is closely monitoring the situation in long-term care, and will work with the chief medical officer of health to determine if further measures are needed. It’s working with partners in health, labour and long-term care to encourage staff and residents to get a third dose.
Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician who works in long-term care, says “two doses is insufficient protection with Omicron,” the highly transmissible variant driving up case counts. On Thursday, the province reported a record 5,790 new cases of COVID-19, 440 people hospitalized, and 169 in hospital intensive care units.
“We’re already in the midst of a tidal wave of Omicron, with very high rates of community spread,” said Arya, the palliative care lead for Kensington Health in Toronto, a not-for-profit centre of specialized health services. “We can’t have runaway rates of Omicron in the community and expect it to stay out of hospitals and long-term-care facilities. It’s already finding its way in.”
On Thursday, outbreaks were reported in 19 of the province’s 626 long-term-care homes, compared with nine outbreaks on Dec. 11. An outbreak is declared by the local public health unit when there are two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in residents, staff or visitors, with an epidemiological link, within a 14-day period, in which at least one person could have acquired their infection in the home.
“The big fear across the health-care system, but especially in long-term care, is that we will have large numbers of residents who will suffer from neglect and also from COVID-19 again,” said Arya. Long-term care is already “extremely short-staffed,” with no replacement staff, he says, calling the situation an “emergency.”
Arya recalls “horrible” events that unfolded earlier in the pandemic, with residents dying of COVID-19 and from neglect because there was no staff to monitor, feed or hydrate them. He points out that when there’s an outbreak, residents are confined to their rooms, noting social isolation and loneliness can accelerate their decline.
Duncan of the OLTCA says homes will do everything they can to support residents’ quality of life during an outbreak.
“Unlike in early waves of the pandemic, provincial guidelines now allow essential caregivers to be in the home during an outbreak,” she said. “Essential caregivers are invaluable and provide care and emotional support to their loved ones.”
Duncan also says long-term-care homes will work with government “to ensure emergency staffing plans are in place, as needed, as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts different regions of the province to varying degrees.”
But Stamatopoulos worries about staffing shortages and what happens to residents without an essential caregiver.
The ministry began working with public health units and long-term-care homes to administer third doses to eligible residents last August, and health-care workers, including those in long-term care, have been eligible for a booster since early November. This week, booster eligibility was expanded in the province to anyone older than 18, so long as it’s been three months since their second dose. As of Dec. 21, more than two million boosters had been administered in Ontario.
In Toronto, many long-term-care homes are administering COVID-19 vaccines to residents, staff and essential caregivers, but when they have requested mobile support from Toronto Public Health, or a hospital, any staff wanting a booster has received one.
Boosting residents is essential, says Arya, noting recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States shows nursing home residents who are not boosted are 10 times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 than those who are boosted.
When it comes to boosting staff, there are various considerations, he says. Many work long hours and can’t get to a clinic, some are hesitant and need to have their concerns addressed, and some worry soreness from a jab will make an already physically demanding job more challenging. Plus, any on-site clinics must have flexible hours because many staff are shift workers.
As of Nov. 30, almost all residents had received two doses. And 99 per cent of staff had received two shots, which was mandated by the province. The Star asked Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips if a third dose will also be mandated for staff.
“The minister is in regular contact with Dr. Moore, the chief medical officer of health,” said spokesperson Vanessa De Matteis. “They are closely monitoring the situation and will continue to take the steps necessary to protect those living and working in long-term-care homes.”
Last week, the province introduced additional measures for long-term care. Among them, all visitors must be fully vaccinated and undergo rapid testing; all staff, students, volunteers and caregivers must be rapid-tested at least twice a week; and caregivers must be fully vaccinated having received a first dose by Dec. 20, and a second by Feb. 21. Indoor visits are limited to two people per resident, and four people outdoors.

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COVID-19: 'Omicron tidal wave' is coming, hospitals will be overwhelmed, predict scientists – Vancouver Sun

“Case curves are the leading indicator when it comes to hospitalizations and even if, as our modelling shows, 20 to 40 per cent fewer people end up in hospital, with cases skyrocketing the way they are right now, it will be hard on the health care system.” — Jens von Bergmann
New modelling shows B.C. could reach 10,000 new COVID-19 cases a day within two weeks, causing hospitals to become overwhelmed with patients, say a group of B.C.-based scientists.
And they believe the only way to prevent that is by shutting down all restaurants and indoor public events for the next three weeks.
Data released by the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group on Wednesday shows the Omicron variant is doubling every three and a half days in B.C. The interdisciplinary group, independent from government, includes scientists, data analysts and mathematicians from UBC, SFU and the University of Victoria and experts from the private sector that create rapid response modelling of the pandemic in B.C.
On Thursday, B.C. reported 2,046 new cases of COVID-19 and one death. There are 195 people being treated for the virus in hospital with 75 in intensive care.
Jens von Bergmann, a data scientist at UBC and a member of the modelling group, said although most people who are vaccinated will suffer mild symptoms from the Omicron variant, the sheer number of people becoming infected means many will suffer severe illness and death.
“We (will) still have vaccinated people die. They died during the Delta wave,” von Bergmann said. “Case curves are the leading indicator when it comes to hospitalizations and even if, as our modelling shows, 20 to 40 per cent fewer people end up in hospital, with cases skyrocketing the way they are right now, it will be hard on the health care system.”
That modelling aligns with surveillance reports from the UK released on Thursday that show a 20 to 40 per cent reduction in hospitalizations from Omicron, compared to Delta.
Even at that rate, the modelling group concluded that B.C. hospitals will exceed bed capacity by the end of the first week in January.
That’s why the scientists are calling on Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, to order more closures right away.
“It is not clear to me that we have done enough and I think there is a very good chance that it is not (enough),” said von Bergmann. “If we have large indoor gatherings, these are opportunities for super spreader events.”
Damien Contandriopoulos, a former research chair in public health and professor at UVic’s School of Nursing, agreed that restaurants should be closed.
“Restaurants are indoor, generally poorly ventilated spaces where lots of people who are living in different houses spend some time together without masks,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter if your table only has six people. You are actually sharing the air with everyone else in the place.”
On Tuesday, Henry ordered all bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres, yoga and dance studies to close and limited venues to 50 per cent capacity until Jan 18. Friday, she and Health Minister Adrian Dix will hold another press conference that could include more restrictions.
No matter what happens, Contandriopoulos is urging people to wear N95 masks.
“We see Dr. Henry over and over again wearing ill-fitted cloth masks. That’s useless,” he said. “The scientific evidence on masks is now overwhelming. There is no debate about what a good mask is and a good mask is a properly fitted N95 or above mask.”
The scientists agree the most effective way to slow the spread of Omicron is with booster vaccines, and they are worried about the pace that B.C. has set for immunization.
“If everyone had a booster, we would cut the rate of spread of Omicron in half,” said Dr. Eric Cytrynbaum, associate professor in mathematics at UBC and member of the B.C. COVID-19 modelling group. “It would reduce hospital demand by a factor of 160, which is pretty dramatic.”
On Tuesday, Dix said the booster program would be ramped up next month by adding more pharmacies and postponing non-emergency surgeries in order to redeploy hospital staff to mass vaccination clinics.
Quebec will also postpone half of its scheduled surgeries and is requesting support from the Canadian Armed Forces to prepare for an expected spike in hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant and to boost its third-dose campaign.
Von Bergmann said B.C. could speed up its booster schedule without having to redeploy urgently needed medical staff.
“Why are we so restrictive about who can give those shots? Dentists give injections all the time. We could have medical students. There are a lot of people who can set a needle. It’s not that hard,” he said. “We could have expanded the number of people who can give those vaccinations. Instead we are shutting down clinics over Christmas.”
The scientists believe B.C.’s testing regime is near collapse, which is another blow to being able to respond appropriately to the Omicron threat.
“We have maxed out our testing capacity already so the wait times are enormous,” said von Bergmann.
“People will now get the rapid tests, which is good because you’ve got to do something, but the results of the rapid tests are not reported, at least not publicly. Given these uncertainties, if cases don’t rise as much, is it because of the restrictions or is it because we have maxed out on testing capacity and reporting? So in that sense we do not have much margin of error, I mean, it could be that the current restrictions are enough but if not, that could have very dire consequences.”
lcordasco@postmedia.com
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BC floods: Abbotsford police arrest Sumas Prairie theft suspect | CTV News – CTV News Vancouver

Police in Abbotsford say they have arrested a 29-year-old Chilliwack man who is suspected of breaking into several buildings in the Sumas Prairie area, where residents are still working to put their lives back together after November’s devastating floods.
Andrew Charpentier has been charged with four counts of breaking and entering and remains in police custody, according to a news release from the Abbotsford Police Department Thursday.
Police said the break-ins of which Charpentier is accused happened "in the middle of December."
"Several residents were in the process of dealing with the impact that the flood had on them, their families, and their farms when an unknown person victimized them," police said in their release.
With the help of Chilliwack RCMP, officers identified Charpentier as a suspect in the incidents, according to Abbotsford police.
He was arrested Wednesday in Chilliwack by members of the Abbotsford department’s crime reduction unit, police said, adding that various items of stolen property have been returned to Sumas Prairie residents as a result of the investigation.
Wednesday’s arrest was the second related to property crime on Sumas Prairie in as many weeks. On Dec. 16, Abbotsford police said two men had been caught attempting to steal equipment from a farm in the area.
Parts of Sumas Prairie were under water for nearly a month after the Nooksack River in the United States flooded during heavy rain in mid-November. The floodwaters overwhelmed the Sumas River dike and caused the former Sumas Lake – which was drained in the early 20th century to create the prairie – to reform. 
Thousands of farm animals died in the floods, and Abbotsford’s mayor estimated the city had sustained more than $1 billion in damage. 
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COVID-19: Manitoba's testing backlog grows to 7,500 | CTV News – CTV News Winnipeg

Manitoba says it has hit its maximum capacity for processing COVID-19 specimens in a laboratory amid a rise in demand for testing in the province.
In a news release sent out Thursday afternoon, the province says the current backlog of specimens is estimated to be over 7,500, and they’re exploring options to expand laboratory capacity to alleviate the backlog.
“It is expected that the current COVID-19 case counts are an under-reporting of the virus across the province,” the province wrote.
Right now, the province is asking for only people with COVID-19, cold or flu-like symptoms to get tested.
On Wednesday, 3,886 COVID-19 tests were completed in Manitoba, according to the provincial dashboard.
The bulletin states current test turnaround time is four days or longer. It also says people should expect long lineups for and wait times for test results.
The province also says Manitobans who require a COVID-19 test for travel purposes should not go to provincial test sites, saying they won’t be considered valid for travel.
“Manitobans who require a COVID-19 test for travel purposes, should not attend these locations, but seek out a private provider,” the province wrote.
Testing locations and hours can be found here.
In addition to COVID-19 testing, Health Links is also receiving a high demand for calls.
A statement from the organization says they’re answering approximately 4,000 calls per day, more than double the daily average last month.
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Over $44000 in drugs seized after Trout Lake Road raid – BayToday.ca

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A police raid on a Trout Lake Road residence last Friday netted $44,000 in drugs with four people under arrest, two from North Bay.
A search led to the seizure of a gun and ammunition, a prohibited weapon, cellular phones, electronic devices, drug paraphernalia, over $7,000 in cash and drugs suspected to be Fentanyl, cocaine, and oxycodone. The street value of the drugs seized is believed to be over $44,000 says Constable Rob Lewis.
As a result of the investigation:
Philip Hermans, 50, from North Bay is charged with:
Hermans was released on an Undertaking and is scheduled to appear at the Ontario Court of Justice on January 25, 2022, in North Bay.
Cheyanne Maglov, 24, from North Bay is charged with:
Maglov was held in custody for bail court, then remanded back into custody and is scheduled to re-appear in the Ontario Court of Justice on December 29 in North Bay.
Roderick James, 45, from London is charged with:
James was held in custody for bail court, then remanded back into custody and is scheduled to re-appear in the Ontario Court of Justice on December 29, in North Bay.
Reese Mathieu, 20, from London is charged with:
Mathieu was held in custody for bail court, then remanded back into custody, and is scheduled to re-appear in the Ontario Court of Justice on December 29, in North Bay.
Involved in thr December 17 raid was OPP from North East Region Community Street Crime Unit, Emergency Response Team, Tactical Response Units, Canine Unit, and Critical Incident Command.
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How Hockey Canada is pivoting after NHLers pull out of 2022 Olympics – Sportsnet.ca

  1. How Hockey Canada is pivoting after NHLers pull out of 2022 Olympics  Sportsnet.ca
  2. ‘Nightmare’ Olympics injury experience had Melnyk against 2022 Beijing participation  TSN
  3. The NHL is officially out of the Olympics — now what?  CBC Sports
  4. In the NHL, money trumps the call to Olympic duty  The Globe and Mail
  5. Could Crosby be on the 2026 Canadian Olympic team?  TSN
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New COVID-19 vaccination clinic is now open near Toronto Pearson Airport – CTV News Toronto

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Geriatric nurse Jasmin Lasse vaccinates in the vaccination centre in Quedlinburg, Germany, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Matthias Bein/dpa via AP)
The Ontario government has opened a new mass vaccination clinic near Toronto Pearson International Airport.
The province made the announcement in a news release late Thursday morning, saying that the clinic will help Ontario reach its goal of administering 300,000 doses per day.
The clinic at the International Centre in Mississauga, located near Derry and Airport roads, will be open as of Thursday to all those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. It will be operated in partnership with Switch Health, the company responsible for take-home COVID-19 testing for travellers.
The clinic will be open seven days a week and residents can book an appointment through the province’s vaccine booking portal. Residents can also make an appointment by calling the provincial vaccine call centre at 1-833-493-3900.
Officials say a limited number of walk-in appointments will also be available.
The province hopes the clinic will soon ramp up to providing about 19,000 vaccinations a day.
According to the province, more than two million COVID-19 booster doses have been administered in Ontario.
Individuals aged 18 and up are eligible to get a third dose three months after getting their second shot.
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