Canada’s models show virus slowing but could surge, B.C. concerned about airline seating

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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 102,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada and more than 8,500 deaths.

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.

June 29

7:00 p.m.: COVID-19 questions of the day

6:50 p.m.: B.C. health experts ‘concerned’ about loosening physical distancing measures on flights

B.C. health officials expressed concern about the airlines relaxing physical distancing measures on planes next month.

“We are concerned,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer said. “It is an environment that we know people spend a lot of time in close contact with each other.”

“The other really, really important thing that we need to remember is you should not be travelling if you are ill. We need to have screening processes in place that identity people before they get on board an aircraft.”

Dr. Henry went on to say there has been an occasion in the past week where people arrived in B.C. with symptoms and later tested positive for COVID-19.

Adrian Dix, B.C.’s health minister, supported Dr. Henry’s comments, adding that he would like the see Transport Canada and Health Canada say why they support this, if that is in fact the case.

“It is the responsibility of Transport Canada the federal government to ensure rules are followed and rules are applied here,” Dix said. “What I’d like to hear from Transport Canada, what I’d like to hear from Health Canada, is do they agree with this because it is absolutely within their jurisdiction to deal with.

“They need to be explicit and they need to explain why it is and that’s what we’ll be waiting to hear.”

Correlation between blood type and COVID-19 infection

Dr. Henry also commented on recent reports that people with Type O blood may be less likely to experience a more severe COVID-19 infection.

“It is interesting, it’s preliminary,” Dr. Henry said. “There’s been a number of different factors that people are looking at, some of them genetic, like blood type.”

“It does not yet give us answers but it can give us some indication that there’s host factors that have to do with how well we respond to fighting off this virus.” 

3:50 p.m.: ‘These recent outbreaks are concerning’

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, spoke about the 177 recently confirmed COVID-19 cases in temporary foreign workers in Windsor-Essex.

“These recent outbreaks are concerning and they pose unique challenges that require a targeted response,” Dr. Yaffe said.

She confirmed that the testing team will return to the farm with the majority of cases on Monday to further investigate these cases.

Ontario Chief Coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer said this “broad” testing on farms will also be implemented in the additional regions, like Niagara and Haldimand-Norfolk, with the executional plans currently in development.

Asymptomatic temporary foreign workers

Dr. Yaffe fielded questions on the decision announced last week by the Ontario government that would allow asymptomatic migrant workers on farms, who have tested positive for COVID-19, to continue working while being kept separate from others.

“We are not applying that policy until we determine that it is the correct conditions for it,” Dr. Yaffe said, adding that the plan was developed in the view of having a “small handful” of asymptomatic workers who tested positive for the virus at a farm.

“We don’t have a small handful in this instance, we have quite a lot of people,” Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health said. “We need to have the team go out there today, investigate, interview each of those people more carefully with an interpreter.”

Dr. Huyer echoed her comments, indicated the initial consideration of last week’s announcement assumed there was “a single or maybe two people who were determined to be asymptomatic.”

“First and foremost, the medical officer of health must sort through and evaluate whether there is an infection in the workplace, to protect everybody else in that workplace,” he said. “If in fact it’s one individual who, through evaluation, did not have symptoms, that’s a different consideration from 177.”

Dr. Yaffe said depending on how these additional interviews with COVID-19 cases in Windsor-Essex turn out, there would be consideration of closing the farm.

“One of the options is to close the farm,” she said. “That has other ramifications and it’s not the automatic thing we would do but it’s one of the considerations.”

Mandatory mask order not yet happening across Ontario

Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health said at this time, the province is not moving to a mandatory mask order, but it is a “consideration.”

“I think everything is always under consideration in this situation,” Dr. Yaffe said. “At this point, we are strongly recommending wearing non-medical masks…in situations where you are not sure you can remain physical distant of at least two metres.” 

This comes after mayors in Ontario have asked the provincial government to create a mandatory mask policy, with “extra precautions” in urban centres.

2:30 p.m.: Most of Ontario’s case count from temporary foreign workers

Of the 257 cases reported in Ontario on Monday, 177 cases came from testing of temporary foreign workers in Windsor-Essex.

“I don’t think it’s contained to one farm…we’ll find out as we continually test down there,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said. “It’s just a full out onslaught down there to nip this in the bud.”

The premier said the testing team will move on to the Niagara area for further investigation into temporary foreign workers.

“We have a great team out there…we’re going to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to resolve these cases as quickly as possible,” Ford said.

The premier was also asked about a practice in the region where recruiters will bring temporary foreign workers from farm to farm, which could lead to expedited spread of COVID-19.

“We’re reaching out to all the farmers, we’re getting a list of these recruitment agencies,” Ford said. “We found out some are fly-by-nighters and just trying to make a quick buck, so we’re going to put an end to that.”

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has written a letter to Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability for the federal government, expressing concerns about temporary foreign workers who have tested positive but do not show any symptoms, asymptomatic carriers, being allowed to continue work on Ontario farms.

“Workers desperately need protection and the lack of clear directives and consistent messaging, at a time when everyone needs to be working together, is a recipe for disaster,” the letter reads.

Minister of Health Christine Elliott confirmed a team, which includes nurses, nurse practitioners and interpreters, will be speaking to people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to see if they are truly asymptomatic carriers or if there are in fact symptomatic but not communicating that fact.

“We only want the people who are well…to be going back to work,” Elliott said. “That’s why we really need to make sure that they have that medical examination.”

The health minister went on to say if temporary foreign workers are symptomatic and have tested positive for the virus, they may need to be housed separately, moved off of the property or even transferred to hospital.

1:25 p.m.: Canada’s top doctor stresses the importance of contact tracing as COVID-19 continues to pop up in ‘hot spots’

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, stressed the importance of identifying COVID-19 cases and tracing their close contacts as a way to keep the spread of the virus down in Canada.

“The virus has not disappeared and resurgence can happen at any time or at any place,” Dr. Tam said. “We are on our way down the right side of the first peak.”

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

The quicker public health officials in Canada can identify COVID-19 cases and trace contacts, followed by self-isolation measures, the less likely it is that spread will occur, allowing Canadians to keep outbreaks down.

“As restrictive public health measures are being lifted…we expected to see some resurgence of cases,” Dr. Tam said.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Minimizing the number of close contacts each person has will also help maintain epidemic control. The more public health measures are in place and the few social spaces space people are in, the easier it will be to control the spread through contact tracing.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Most of the cases seen to date have been in Quebec and Ontario, primarily in the more populous areas of Toronto and Montreal. The data does show that Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have seen a recent increase in cases, which exemplifies that resurgences can happen at any time, even if case numbers are relatively low.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

P.E.I., the Yukon and Northwest Territories had no community spread of the virus, and Nunavut has not had any confirmed cases. Many of the outbreaks that have occurred have been in more vulnerable, crowded settings and lower income areas which show significant health disparities.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Earlier on in the pandemic, older Canadians made up a large portion of cases but more recently, with declines in long-term care and senior’s homes, people under the age of 40 now account for a greater number of infections.

11:55 a.m.: Canada still looking at border restrictions into August, federal updates to be less frequent

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will continue to “put the safety of Canadians at the very top of our priority list” with regards to border restrictions, particularly measures with the U.S.

“We will continue to assess the situation, work with Americans on what steps need to be taken into the month of August,” Trudeau said. “Even as our economy is reopening we need to make sure we’re continuing to remain vigilant, individually and collectively.”

The non-essential travel restrictions with the U.S. will remain in place until at least July 21.

With Canadian COVID-19 modelling data to be released later on Monday, the prime minister teased that the information will show things are heading in the right direction in terms of the country’s response to the virus.

Trudeau stressed it is still important for Canadians to continue to follow public health advice, including wearing a mask if physical distancing cannot be maintained, as a way to minimize a second wave of spread.

If a second wave does arrive, the prime minister said he is confident Canada will have sufficient fiscal room to respond effectively.

As we move into July, federal officials will only provide public updates on the COVID-19 pandemic a few times a week or when needed.

June 26

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

5:30 p.m.: Quebec backtracks on COVID-19 case updates

After Quebec officials announced Thursday that the province will transition to weekly case updates to the public, the ministry of health is backtracking on their decision.

Daily case numbers will be shared with the public again starting Monday, said Quebec’s new health minister Christian Dubé.

The decision comes after the reaction from the public suggesting the change was being made as an attempt to “hide” information as public health restrictions are loosened, said Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director.

Dr. Arruda explained the initial decision was made Wednesday because the numbers were getting lower and lower, and the belief was that the public might be getting tired of hearing the daily case counts.

New orders on travel in Manitoba

The Manitoba government have issues a number of new public health orders related to travel in the province.

The orders include:

  • Remove restrictions on travel to northern Manitoba and remote communities

  • Remove the requirement for people coming to Manitoba to work on film productions to self-isolate for 14 days before entering the province

  • Clarify the only sports teams exempt from self-isolation requirements are professional sports teams from Manitoba and remove the requirement for Manitoba sports teams to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to Manitoba

  • Permit individuals who are self-isolating under federal or provincial health orders to visit a family member or friend who has a life-threatening disease in a health-care facility, if the facility permits them to do so and they are not displaying symptoms of COVID-19

3:45 p.m.: Red Cross begins recruiting to prepare for work in Quebec long-term care homes

Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, provided additional details on the military leaving long-term care homes in Quebec as the Red Cross moves in.

“The Canadian Armed Forces will not leave a facility until it is stable,” Sajjan stressed, adding that military personnel currently in these homes have been sharing best practices with the Canadian Red Cross to help them prepare for their duties.

He said all Canadians Armed Forces members deployed to long-term care homes will go into a 14-day isolation before they resume normal military duties, but they will still be prepared to support these facilities if needed.

“Canadian Armed Forces will continue to maintain a reserve of 10 augmented civilian care shifts, teams of medical and support personnel, who will be ready to assist Quebec facilities in case the situation becomes critical again,” Sajjan said. “These teams will be able to respond to any COVID-19 outbreak that civilian staff and provincial health authorities are unable to control on their own.” 

Conrad Sauvé, the president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, said the organization is working to scale up its teams to support long-term care homes in Quebec. He stressed these are paid positions — with no background in healthcare required — in support aid, site management, health and safety, and administrative roles.

“Those roles require a minimum one month commitment with the opportunity to work over the summer,” Sauvé said. “This is a great opportunity for students looking for summer work, individuals who may be out of work temporarily due to COVID or those just looking to make a difference this summer.”

“The Canadian Red Cross is used to responding to increasingly complex disasters in Canada. This pandemic has required a response of an even greater scale.”

Military personnel possibly asymptomatic carriers

General Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, was asked if he believes there were additional measures the military could have taken to prevent COVID-19 spreading to its personnel. Since entering long-term care facilities, 55 members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been infected with the virus, with all but four recovered.

“As we went into those long-term care facilities we brought with us the best knowledge that we could, but we didn’t have local knowledge of the facilities themselves,” General Vance said. “A lot of those troops that went in there were not experts in infectious environments and were learning as they went.”

He revealed the military believes some of these troops were infected but asymptomatic before the operation started and their close living conditions in hotels could have impacted the number of troops who contracted COVID-19.

“We believe that some of those troops that were determined to be infected had been asymptomatic before the operation started,” General Vance said. “Testing regime is going to be really critical going forward…any advances in PPE, we would take advantage of.”

1:40 p.m.: Ford won’t let people in Ontario go ‘hog wild’ like the U.S.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford commented on how the province will move into Stage 3 of reopening, not revealing too many details, but promising it will be a “cautious approach.”

“We’re going to rely on all the chief medical officers…across the province,” Ford said. “I’m sure that we’ll be doing the same staged approach.”

The premier went on to say the Ontario will not approach the next stage of reopening in the same way as the U.S.

“That’s the comparison, being cautious and everyone following the protocol…versus the reckless approach, in my opinion, south of the border that everyone just goes hog wild,” Ford said. “That’s come back to bite them and we just pray to God that doesn’t happen up here.”

‘The system is working’

The premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott also spoke about a recent outbreak at a nail salon in Kingston, Ont., which led to 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and warnings to the more than 500 people who have recently visited the business.

“What it shows is the system is working…because of how quickly we contacted and traced the 500 people,” Ford said.

Elliott echoed the statement that the province’s ability to do the contact tracing for such a large number of people is positive. She added this outbreak does not mean any Stage 2 measures will be rolled back, at this point.

“It doesn’t mean that we need to go back on anything that we moved into Stage 2 but we are continuing…to make sure that the appropriate precautions are taken,” the health minister said.

11:30 a.m.: Military to be replaced in long-term care homes in Quebec

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to transition Canadian Armed Forces members out of long-term care homes in Quebec, replacing them with individuals from the Canadian Red Cross.

The prime minister stressed military personnel will only leave when a care facility has moved from a red condition, the most critical label, to a green condition. He said 150 members of the Red Cross will arrive in the coming week, with 750 set to arrive in the weeks to follow.

“It was actually the Red Cross that participated in training (for) the armed forces,” Trudeau said. “We will not leave anyone in a precarious position.”

The prime minister said the country needs to do a “much better” job caring for seniors but many critical situations have stabilized.

Trudeau fields questions about WE charity partnership for the Canada Student Service Grant program

On Thursday, Trudeau announced the federal government is launching the Canada Student Service Grant, which will give each student up to $5,000 for volunteer work. The program is being administered by the WE charity organization, which the Trudeau family has worked closely with in the past.

When asked why this organization was chosen to administer the grant program, the prime minister said this was the only one in Canada that could do the job.

“We’re going to create opportunities for tens of thousands of young people right across the country to work with organizations large and small,” the prime minister said. “In order to do that, we needed to have a partner to help establish the networks and to deliver that with all partners across the country.”

“As the public service dug into it they came back with only one organization that was capable of networking and organizing and delivering this program on the scale that we needed it, and that was the WE program.”

Trudeau said WE will have its costs covered but they are not making any profits on this.

10:15 a.m.: Canada’s top doctor says issue in long-term care homes is ‘a whole of society issue’

In brief remarks on Friday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, responded to calls that Canada needs to do more to care for seniors.

“Critically, our response to the pandemic has revealed failures in how we care for older Canadians,” Dr. Tam said. “While we have made progress…it is vital that we accelerate our efforts.”

When asked about much of the blame being put on the provinces, primarily Ontario and Quebec, she said these institutions do fall under provincial jurisdiction but all levels of government, in additional to both the public and private sector, needs to take responsibility.

“It’s a whole of society issue and I think that every one of us, every level of the health system should take responsibility,” Dr. Tam said. “Our role has been to support the province in the response and provide guidance.”

Canada’s chief public health officer indicated personal support workers and other staff in long-term care homes having to work in different health setting “perhaps played a role on propagation the virus as well.”

She added it is difficult for anyone to be in isolation but does not want to public to discount the effectiveness of technology to allow order Canadians to have personal connections.

June 25

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

7:00 p.m.: B.C. NHL rumours and advice for ‘summer loving’

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, responded to reports that the NHL is looking at Edmonton and Toronto as possible hub cities over Vancouver. Some reports have indicated it is due to issues around the quarantining process if a player, coach or NHL official gets sick.

Dr. Henry said she has not had direct conversations with the NHL about this being the case but maintains that the health of the players and the people of B.C. is her “primary concern.” She said if this is the case, she is “disappointed” with the decision.

“Under no circumstances was I going to compromise in any way the health of people here in British Columbia and we made that very clear,” Dr. Henry said.

“Our advice and our direction was that if there was a positive case that arose, that we would do what we do with all cases that we have here,” she explained. “We would investigate and…there needs to be contingency in case there were other people identified as ill, and it might mean suspensions of a part of a series for a period of time until that could be done.”

Health minister Adrian Dix could not confirm the reports either, saying it is “a decision for the NHL,” but maintained that Vancouver is still an excellent option for an NHL hub city.

“We just profoundly believe that the strength of what we said to everybody is the strength of public health here in B.C.,” Dix said.

What about ‘summer loving’?

B.C.’s provincial health officer was also asked about people who want to experience some “summer loving” but still need to following physical distancing rules. She responded by saying each person should evaluate their own risks.

“Go outside, meet outside, decide whether this is somebody that you want to include into your bubble,” Dr. Henry said. “I think people need to make their own decisions based on what their own risk is and the risk of those that they are closest to.”

“Love still happens in the time of COVID…start online, start meeting outside before you take the plunge.”

Alberta to bring COVID-19 tests to pharmacies

Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s health minister, announced that people in the province with no COVID-19 symptoms and no known exposure to a case will be able to get tested at community pharmacies.

“Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals and pharmacy’s support the healthcare of residents in their communities everyday,” Shandro said.

This will be a throat swab that will then be sent to Alberta Precision Laboratories for analysis.

“Participating pharmacies will receive specialized training and they will follow strict safety protocols,” Shandro said.

This will begin in the coming days at 20 pharmacies, primarily in Edmonton and Calgary. Anyone with symptoms or anyone who has knowingly been exposed to a COVID-19 case should not go to a pharmacy for a test but should instead take the online assessment and present at one of the existing assessment centres.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, in the lead up to Canada Day next week, asked people in the province to consider taking steps to minimize the risk of potentially being infected or transmitting COVID-19. This includes wearing a mask when physical distancing may not be possible, avoiding high-touch surfaces and frequent hand washing.

“The risk of spread is lower outdoors so if the weather permits, I suggest celebrating outside within your cohort,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “Please avoid barbecues and potlucks because shared containers and serving utensils can be a source of infection.”

“This year it’s a good idea for everyone to bring their own food and drinks, and if anyone disagrees with that you can blame me for that recommendation…COVID-19 loves a party so we can’t let our guard down.”

5:45 p.m.: Bars, hotels, spas, waterparks and more open in Quebec

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, said all business sectors that have still be restricted in the province can resume operations. This includes bars, hotels, waterparks and spas. There are three exceptions, large festivals and events, overnight camps and sports with close contact fighting.

Dr. Arruda stressed that physical distancing of two metres, frequent hand washing and the use of a non-medial facial covering must continue for all people in Quebec.

For bars in particular, Quebec’s director of public health said fewer people will be allowed inside to maintain physical distancing and there will be no standing or dancing. He said people will have to sit down to enjoy their drinks in order to prevent people walking around, possibly spreading the virus.

Dr. Arruda also spoke about the province moving to a weekly public update on case counts in Quebec. He said the number of cases and hospitalizations have come down low enough to transition to less-frequent updates.

Quebec’s director of public health said if there are any resurgences of cases or hospitalizations the province will resume more regular publication of data.

‘Viruses don’t always follow all the rules’

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, stressed younger people or individuals without any underlying health conditions should not be “casual” about possibly contracting COVID-19. Dr. Williams said he has received “anecdotal reports” of post-infection conditions, similar to the “COVID toes” reported in children.

“I wouldn’t be too casual about not caring about getting infected,” he said. “This is a new disease and one can’t just assume they know everything about it…you don’t know what the longer term aspects are.”

As images being to circulate of crowds of people flooding to recently opened patios in the province, Dr. Williams said opening up carefully should be the priority, with particular concern about businesses opening up too quickly.

“It’s open up and be careful, that’s the message,” Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said. “Don’t do it recklessly.”

“Viruses don’t always follow all the rules and one should not be overly confident and take things for granted.”

Manitoba begins plans for fall school year

The Manitoba government has released its plans to reopen schools in September, with teachers returning on Sept. 2 and students on Sept. 8.

School divisions are expected to submit their plans for three different possible scenarios in the fall, in-class learning with near-normal conditions, in-class learning with additional public health measures taken into consideration and remote learning from home with limited use of school facilities.

The final decision on the resumption of school in September will be made by Aug. 1, based on public health directions at the time.

Some of the key components in the framework put forward by the Manitoba government for fall schooling plans include:

  • Ensuring schools can respond and adapt to changing public health orders and guidance

  • Considering the use of cohorts in classrooms, on buses and during activities to limit exposure to COVID-19

  • Looking at ways to accommodate specialty programming and extracurricular activities

  • Considering how school transportation can be safely offered

  • Making arrangements for students, teachers and staff who may be at higher risk of COVID-19

  • Considering learning and assessment needs, as well as any educational gaps for students as a result of the pandemic

2:00 p.m.: Ontario premier criticizes report comparing deaths in long-term care facilities

Ontario Premier Doug Ford criticized a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information comparing deaths in Canadian long-term care homes to other developed nations.

Ford said he thinks the report is “a little unfair” as it compares Canada to Spain’s 18,000 deaths in long-term care.

The premier also criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his comments on the report, with Trudeau indicating these care in these facilities is provincial jurisdiction and they were not able to provide adequate care, in many cases.

“Put your money where your mouth is,” Ford said. “We’re supposed to be all in this together, let’s be all in this together.”

The premier did go on to say that although he disagrees with the prime minister’s recent comments, the federal government has been “pretty good” in their support to date.

Minister of Health Christine Elliott said in an effort to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 spread, the province has ordered extra higher-level dosage of the influenza vaccine for seniors, to ensure they can be protected as we head into flu season.

Elliott said Ontario is also going to continue to enhance its testing capacity and conduct regular tests, particularly for seniors and people in long-term care facilities, nursing homes and seniors residences.

‘I just don’t think we’re ready right now’

Premier Ford also commented on calls from the tourism industry to loosen border restrictions. He said he spoke to “an expert” who indicated a second wave will come when Canada starts to welcome people from around the world.

“I know it’s inevitable, we’ve got to do it, I just don’t think we’re ready right now,” Ford said. “You see what’s happening down in the States, you look at Florida, you look at Texas, Arizona, California, I don’t want to be those states.”

“I want to protect the people here in Ontario and I just think we’re opening it up too early if the decision is made on July the 21st.”

12:50 p.m.: ‘Canada needs all the volunteer COVID-19 ‘firefighters’ that we can get’

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam spoke about the importance of Canadians keeping their number of contacts small to assist with contact tracing across the country, saying it is similar to Canada putting out fires.

“Canada needs all the volunteer COVID-19 ‘firefighters’ that we can get,” Dr. Tam said.

She said the “big fire” is out and now “public health firefighters” are able to focus on case investigation and contact tracing to “control the smaller fires.”

Grouping of asymptomatic, COVID-19 positive workers at Ontario farms

Canada’s chief public health officer also commented on the plan announced yesterday by the Ontario government that asymptomatic workers on farms, who have tested positive for COVID-19, can continue working while being kept separate from others.

Dr. Tam said she is not particularly familiar with the specifics of the plan but stressed it’s important to keep people who have tested positive for the virus “isolated” to ensure they do not spread the COVID-19 to others.

“People can begin to get symptoms anytime in that incubation period,” she said. “You need to make sure that you screen them for symptoms and enable them to stop working if they’re not feeling well.”

“We have to ensure that all the conditions are right to support the workers so that they can, if they’re sick, not go to work and be supported for that period.”

Quebec to do weekly updates on COVID-19 cases

The Quebec government has announced the province will limits its COVID-19 updates to once a week, beginning next week, opposed to providing the daily case updates.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canadian deputy chief public health officer, indicated it is more important for the province to continue to communicate good public health measures for the public to follow.

Dr. Njoo went on to say if there was an outbreak or a significant event related to COVID-19 spread, he expects the province to be transparent and disseminate the information in a public space.

11:10 a.m.: Government launches Canada Student Service Grant

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is launching the Canada Student Service Grant, as a way to help students develop skills while contributing to their community through volunteer work. Students in university, college or CEGEP can receive a grant of between $1,000 and $5,000 based on the number of hours worked.

The federal government is also investing $40 million to create 5,000 Mitacs internships for post-secondary students. Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that provides research and training programs, usually supports masters and PhD research students. This additional funding would extend their internship opportunities to including undergraduate students and professional programs, like law and medicine.

Trudeau said an example of these new programs includes allowing MBA students to connect with small businesses facing challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government will also create 10,000 summer job placements for people between the ages of 15 and 30.

“If we want to build a strong and resilient economy, we have to invest in the next generation,” the prime minister said.

Canada needs to better support seniors in long-term care

Trudeau also responded to a recent report that the number of deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care homes is about twice the average of rates from other developed nations.

“What this recent report has shown…is that the job isn’t being adequately done in long-term care centres across the country,” the prime minister said. “We need to…make sure that we are doing better by our seniors.”

He went on to say the federal government is continuing to work with provinces on supporting long-term care facilities but recognizes that these institutions fall under provincial jurisdictions.

June 24

6:15 p.m. COVID-19 questions of the day

5:45 p.m.: B.C. moving into Phase 3 with the resumption of travel operations, film and television productions

B.C. Premier John Horgan announced the province will move into Phase 3 of its reopening plan. 

More opportunities to travel within the province is a key component of this next phase of reopening, with hotels, motels, RV parks, cabins, resorts, hostels, lodges, and backcountry operators to resume service. 

“We believe that if we’re careful about how we approach communities we have not been to in a while, and we visit respecting the views and values of the people in those communities, Phase 3 achievements will be as positive as those in Phase 2,” Horgan said. 

The travel guidelines outlined by B.C. include:

  • Pre-trip planning and research on available resources at arriving destination 

  • Respecting any local travel advisories to isolated and remote communities

  • No travelling for anyone who is sick, and if symptoms develop while travelling – self isolate immediately and contact 811 for guidance and testing

  • Practicing safe physical distancing of two metres at all times 

  • Spending time in small groups and open spaces

  • Practicing good hygiene, including frequent hand washing and cleaning

“Although we’re going to have a summer that’s better than we would have thought perhaps a few months ago, this is not a return to normal,” the B.C. premier said. “We need to make sure that we maintain the practices in our own community as we travel to other communities.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry,  B.C.’s provincial health officer, reminded people in the province that the virus is still a threat and precautions still need to be taken to keep each person safe. She stressed B.C. is not going back to a “pre-COVID normal.”

“This will be a unique year and a unique summer for all of us,” Dr. Henry said. “We are at the point where we need social interaction, we need to be able to have our economic engines going and part of that is travelling, seeing people, going to places.”

The premier said that he has heard and has personally experienced difficulty with booking a spot at key travel sites in B.C. but he said hospitality operators may “perhaps open up areas that they had not planned on.” 

“I think it’s going to be a positive challenge for tourism operators,” Horgan said.

He added now it is “more important than ever” for British Columbians to travel within the province, and support the hospitality and tourism sector.

“The biggest concern I have for our economic restart is the absence of literally hundreds of thousands of international travellers who have historically looked at British Columbia as a place to come and visit,” the premier said.

No exception for 14-day isolation rule for TV, film productions

Phase 3 also allows TV and film productions to operate in the province with a number of safety protocols in place, including staggering work schedules, limiting or restricting visitors to set, reducing the number so cast and crew at filming areas, and assigning hairstylists and makeup artists to one individual at a time.

The premier said he is not aware of any specific requests from the film industry for a type of “cohort” isolation system, similar to what is outlined in the NHL plan for hockey players who would potentially travel to Vancouver. This means international travellers going to B.C. for film or TV productions would still need to self-isolate for 14 days.

“Compared to Hollywood, Hollywood North is looking pretty good on the health front and we have extraordinary talent here…as well as studio capacity to meet the needs of many, many productions,” Horgan said. 

“I don’t think there’s a comparison between the NHL proposal, which was going to be a group of people in one place, as opposed to the film industry, which is dispersed right around British Columbia and has domestic staff that would still be part of any production that takes place.”

Dr. Henry said her “overriding concern” will continue to be ensuring protocols that protect local communities remain in place.

“There is no waving of the 14-day quarantine,” she said. “The overriding importance is the safety factor.”

3:30 p.m.: Atlantic provinces begin ‘bubble’ travel next week, possible dates to loosen restrictions for the rest of Canada

Premiers of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador have agreed to an Atlantic bubble for travel, beginning on July 3.

This would allow residents of each province to move in and out of these regions without having to isolate upon arrival.

Visitors to the Maritimes from other provinces or territories in Canada will still have to quarantine for 14 days.

“As this Atlantic bubble opens it will be closely monitored as we remain committed to working together to support economic and social recovery,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs confirmed no one will be able to leave their province of residence if they have been outside the Atlantic region for any reason, including for essential work, 14 days before the date they intend to travel.

“You will not be able to visit the other provinces if you have been advised to self-isolate or if you are awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test,” Higgs said.

Proof every traveller’s province of residence will have to be presented at the borders and people who are symptomatic should not travel.

“We will be collecting travellers’ information so we can conduct contact tracing in the event of an outbreak,” Higgs said. “Each province will have their own process in place to track and monitor travellers for public health purposes and New Brunswickers will be subject to those rules when visiting other provinces.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the province will continue to work on ensuring that proper public health measures are in place and followed as these travel restrictions are loosened.

“We have to have a broader conversation about the use of masks…at the same time looking at what other potential internal restrictions we could start easing off a little bit,” McNeil said.

Ball said as early as two weeks after the implementation of this Atlantic bubble, the province will look to ease travel restrictions with other areas of Canada.

“We would permit travellers from other parts of Canada starting around Friday, July 17,” Ball said. “This can only be possible if we get favourable results in the days and weeks leading into July 17.”

This sentiment was echoed by other Atlantic premiers, with Nova Scotia’s premier saying the province will be looking to make the same travel permissions around the same time.

“We don’t have a specific date but…we would look at the second to third week of July,” McNeil said. “Two weeks following the July 3 date, we would be reassessing the epidemiology in our region and quite honestly, looking at the rest of Canada.”

Higgs said it is “certainly in the realm of possibility” for New Brunswick to loosen travel rules for more Canadians around mid-to late July.

2:00 p.m.: Most of Windsor-Essex to move into Stage 2, new plan to prevent COVID-19 spread on farms

The Ontario government announced that Windsor-Essex can move to Stage 2 on Thursday, except Leamington and Kingsville.

The province is also implementing a plan to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 at farms, which still continues to be a concern.

This three-point plans includes expanded testing on these farm sites through mobile testing units, in addition to community assessment centres. The provincial government confirmed about 350 asymptomatic workers in the region have been tested at their work site and more mobile testing will be scheduled in the days to come.

Premier Doug Ford stressed that temporary foreign workers receive the same benefits and protections as other workers in the province, including Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits if they do test positive for COVID-19. He said in certain cases they may be eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) through the federal government.

“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with farmers and our workers,” Ford said.

New public health guidance will be issued to allow asymptomatic workers to continue working, while following measures to reduce possible transmission of COVID-19. Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said this would also allow employers to separate asymptomatic workers, who have tested positive, from others.

“We put out a cluster method where you could take those individuals who are asymptotic and still test positive, and ask them to work separately from the rest because they’re mostly on farms, they’re out on large acreage,” Dr. Williams said. “They would wear a facial covering…the farmer would work to have them sleeping in separate, together, away from the rest of the workforce…so they’re not interacting with the rest of the workers.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said these individuals would be monitored and retested within 48 hours, and if any develop signs of symptoms they would be dealt with as a possible case. If the test comes back negative, they would rejoin the rest of the workforce.

Premier Ford also responded to reports that some of these temporary foreign workers are having racist slurs yelled at them by people in the province. The premier said he “just won’t tolerate that.”

“Those vegetables you’re eating, it’s because of these migrant workers…and if you don’t appreciate the migrant workers than you go out in the fields and start working your back off when it’s 100 degrees out in the middle of the summer,” Ford said. “Maybe you should go up and say thank you for working your back off because a lot of people aren’t willing to do the work that they’re doing.”

“They never came here with COVID-19, they self-isolated. The people here, somewhere, somehow gave them COVID-19 then it spread in congregate living.”

June 23

7:00 p.m.: B.C.’s latest modelling data shows a safe increase of personal contacts in the province

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

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s chief medical officer of health, presenting new modelling information that indicates the province has been able to manage COVID-19 as it has moved into different stages of reopening.

“I do think we’re in the place where we can move to supporting the safe opening of other parts of our economy…including travel, particularly people travelling within B.C.,” Dr. Henry said, adding that as the province moves to Phase 3 she will be watching for any cases that are not linked to a known source.

Dr. Henry showed how the number of infections that came from unknown exposure, peaking in March, has significantly decreased since that point. 

Imported cases still continue to occur in B.C., which the chief medical officer of health said is primarily from people who are returning to the province from other countries, most recently from India. Dr. Henry said some of these cases have also been in temporary foreign workers with 27 becoming symptomatic during the quarantine period, primarily in workers from Mexico, which she said indicates this isolation measure is working.

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

Dr. Henry said it’s predicted that the province is at about 65 per cent of normal contact, or pre-COVID-19 contact, which has resulted in a slight increase in new cases in June. She did disclose these are considered “unstable numbers” because the number of cases in the province right now is so low, which can result in a “wide variation” in projection models.

“What this helps us understand is that we are in a place where we are having more contact in our communities,” Dr. Henry said. “But what this also tells us…is that many of those contacts are done in a safe way.”

She said B.C. wants to remain at approximately this level as increasing to 80 per cent of normal contact could lead to a “rapid rebound” of new cases.

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

Dr. Henry revealed a new projection based on the reproductive number in B.C., which relates to how many people a case will transmit the virus to. She said that value was flattened and brought down below one, but has since increased. Dr. Henry said she would like that number to remain the same or, ideally, be below one.

Moving forward, B.C. will work to make sure that public health still has the resources to “quickly and completely” find people who may be at risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

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

New tool for COVID-19 detection in communities

The province will also look at monitoring wastewater for COVID-19 RNA sequences as an indicator of when the virus may be introduced in communities. Dr. Henry said this would be particularly helpful in smaller regions of the province.

“In larger communities, as you can imagine, you have to filter and get a small amount to test and it can be a challenge,” Dr. Henry said. “But there is some evidence that we can use it to give a barometer of how much transmission there is in a community.”

“Where I think it’s going to be helpful for us is if we start to see cases, one or two, in a small community or we’re worried about transmission in a community, we can test and use it to see if there is any evidence of community spread.”

Dr. Henry is hoping by the fall the province will have this wastewater monitoring in place.

6:00 p.m.: Alberta to conduct four serology studies

Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s health minister, announced the province is investing $10 million for targeted serology testing in the province.

“We know that there are people who have been infected and were never testing,” Shandro said.

Two studies will test children in Calgary and Edmonton. Shandro said it will start next month and will test these children twice a year until 2022. Another study will regularly test a group of Albertans over the age of 45. 

Labs will conduct a fourth test in the province that randomly evaluates samples of blood collected for other purposes across Alberta. These anonymous samples can be from anyone over the age of 18.

“These four studies will give us a lot more information about how the virus is spreading,” Shandro said.

Transportation delay of 800 samples could lead to COVID-19 retests

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, revealed a group of 800 samples collected last week were delayed in getting tested due to a “transportation issue” and may result in some necessary retesting.

“There were six positive tests in this group and the individuals who tested positive have been contacted, and contact tracing is underway,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “Out of an abundance of caution, a small number of those who tested negative may need to be retested if they were symptomatic.”

“The likelihood of an inaccurate result is extremely low but the lab will be contacting those individuals…and discuss whether they need another test.”

The province is also listing a COVID-19 outbreak at the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton. Dr. Hinshaw said this outbreak is in a single unit and so far six patients and two staff have tested positive.

“Outbreak protocols have already been implemented and all staff or patients who may have been exposed are being tested,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said.

Restaurants in Edmonton close, but not an order from public health

Dr. Hinshaw also commented on a number of restaurants closing in Edmonton over the weekend. She said these were “operational decisions” made by the owners and it is an important reminder that the virus is still present.

“We did not require closures and to date, there are no known outbreaks at these locations,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “As part of the guidance we have provided, all restaurants are expected to have procedures in place for rapid response if a staff member or patron develops symptoms of COVID-19.”

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health advised the public that just because someone was at the same establishment as a case does not mean they are “automatically at risk.” She said one case does not require a business to close its operations and ordering a business to close is a “last resort.”

“Determining who is at risk is something that our contact tracing teams closely assess based on when the individual became symptomatic and two days prior to that point,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “Anyone at risk of exposure is immediately contacted, offered testing and required to isolate.”

5:25 p.m.: Saskatchewan moves to second part of Phase 4 next week

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the province will enter the second part of Phase 4 of reopening on Monday, June 29.

Movie theatres and live event theatres will be able to resume operations, following enhanced cleaning and physical distancing measures. Libraries, museums and art galleries can also reopen, as well as contact sports. Locker rooms, change rooms and showering facilities can reopen, and change rooms at clothing stores can be used at 100 per cent occupancy.

“Our goal continues to be…to reopen as quickly as possible while doing so as safely as possible,” Moe said.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical officer of health, reminded people in the province that this is a “new normal” not back to “business as usual.”

He said Saskatchewan is working with neighbouring provinces about a “more permissive approach” to travel rules.

“Do more things locally than further away from home,” Dr. Shahab said, adding that the public should also check ahead of time for rules in a particular area they plan to travel to.

2:30 p.m.: Ontario will not be making mask wearing mandatory for the general public

The Ontario government said it will not be making a mandatory mask order in the province.

Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, she does not believe is it necessary and Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province does not have enough bylaw officers to police something like that, but stores could be in charge of implemented their own policy.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said it is also important to remember that different areas of the province are experiencing different COVID-19 circumstances and local public health can use their authority to take additional actions, if required.

“By being vigilant and wearing a mask, by doing your six foot distancing, by maintaining your circles…we actually may be able to flatten a secondary wave,” Dr. Williams said.

‘They need to be responsible’

Premier Ford commented on reports of people not physical distancing at beaches in Ontario, going so far as large groups getting in physical fights.

Ford has a message for young people who may have participated, “you think you can’t catch COVID, you can catch COVID.”

The premier said 1,394 people between the ages of 0-19 have been infected with the virus and 9,006 people between the ages of 20-39 have been COVID-19 positive. Most cases have been in people ages 40-59, with 9,910 people infected.

“You get a few cold pops in you and you start going wild, that’s unacceptable,” Ford said. “They need to be responsible…The vast majority are.”

1:00 p.m.: ‘I wish I could say we were close to the finish line’

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said “the marathon continues” to combat COVID-19 in Canada.

“I wish I could say we were close to the finish line or even half way, but that simply isn’t the case and no one can say for sure how far off we are,” Dr. Tam said. “We’ve got a very clear motivation to keep going and there is absolute certainty that giving up is not an option.”

She said the arrival of the summer season has not made COVID-19 “go away” as several populations around the world are still seeing high infection rates.

For people coming into Canada, primarily from the U.S. which continues to have a significant daily COVID-19 case counts, Dr. Tam said additional testing measures at the border are not going to be implemented at this time.

Canada’s chief public health officer said immunity is not yet “well characterized” and antibody testing will not be relied upon until more information on human immunity is known. Additionally, the PCR test (Polymerise Chain Reaction testing detects the genetic information of the virus called the RNA) for COVID-19 only provides a result for that moment in time and some individuals may be infected with the virus but can still have a negative test at that moment.

“There are limitations to lab testing,” Dr. Tam said.

She added people in Canada should continue to follow the two metre physical distance rule, even as some jurisdictions more to decrease that distance.

“There are droplets that are going to fall between one to two metres,” Dr. Tam said, adding that a one-metre distance would avoid “a whole bunch” of droplets but two metres would allow someone to avoid more.

11:20 a.m.: ‘Atlantic bubble’ for travel continues to be discussed

Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer of Prince Edward Island, said premiers in the Maritimes are committed to coordinating an “Atlantic bubble” for travel. This would allow people from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and P.E.I. to travel between each province without having to self-isolate.

“It’s important that Islanders know their risks, and it’s still overall recommended that we think small and think local,” Dr. Morrison said.

Self-isolation would continue for people from outside of Atlantic provinces and screening would still continue at all points of entry.

“I think it would be important to start with Atlantic Canada and see how that goes,” Dr. Morrison said. “We’ve always said a bubble can be fragile by its very nature.”

“At this point we’re focused on Atlantic Canada and trying to establish a date for that.”

P.E.I. is set to enter Phase 4 of reopening on Friday, which will allow organized gatherings of up to 50 people, facial and piercing services ,and sleepovers with children from different household (limited to one child or siblings from the same household with beds at least two metres apart).

Accommodations for non-residents, like campgrounds, hospitality homes, inns, and bed and breakfasts will also reopen.

The chief public health officer also said some establishments will be able to have multiple gatherings of 50 people, for example large churches with multiple rooms that can safely hold 50 people physically distant.

There should be no mixing of the two groups and plans need to be reviewed by the public health office.

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

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