By Sneh Duggal, Jack Hauen and Jessica Smith Cross
Study on SARS-CoV-2 antibodies
A Canadian study spanning nine provinces shows less than one per cent of blood donors had antibodies for SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But those working on the study cautioned that the results could "underestimate" the prevalence of the virus among Canadians.
The seroprevalence study, done in partnership between Canadian Blood Services and the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), analyzed more than 37,300 blood donation samples collected between May 9 and June 18 from across the country, except for Quebec and the territories.
The results show that "by the end of May, as few as 0.7 per cent of healthy Canadians had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19," a media release stated, explaining that the presence of antibodies are "a key indicator of past infection."
Catherine Hankins, co-chair of the CITF, which the federal government launched to track the spread of COVID-19, said the results could underestimate seroprevalence for two reasons.
"First, antibody levels do decline rapidly and may have disappeared in some people by the time of testing. Second, blood donors in general are health-conscious and healthier than the general population," Hankins stated. "Nonetheless, these results once again tell us how few Canadians were infected by SARS-CoV-2 by the end of May. This shows that when all actors, especially individual citizens, follow good public health practices, the risk of infection diminishes considerably."
Ontario showed the highest seroprevalence among the nine provinces at 0.96 per cent, with Manitoba and British Columbia coming up next at 0.56 and 0.5 per cent respectively. In Ottawa, 1.29 per cent of people tested positive for antibodies, while in Toronto the rate was 1.07 per cent. While Quebec wasn't included in this study, another study has indicated a rate of 2.23 per cent in the province.
Those working on the study suggested that its results also mean "continued vigilance" is needed.
"Global data suggest that population-wide infection rates estimated from SARS-CoV-2 antibodies are about 50 per cent higher than those measured in blood donor samples. But even if we doubled or tripled the estimates from this study, there is little to no likelihood that levels of immunity in the population are high enough to slow down a second wave of COVID-19 infection," CITF Co-Chair David Naylor stated. He added that testing and tracing capacity needs to be ramped up throughout Canada so that the spread of COVID-19 is limited.
Teachers' union concerns
The president of a local Catholic Teachers' union says her members' schools are in a state of chaos, with school starting in two days and teachers still not knowing who or what they'll be teaching.
“It’s complete chaos. Nobody knows who is teaching what," Julie Altomare-DiNunzio, president of the Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers (TECT), told QP Briefing.
She stated in an email to members on Tuesday that the union had been meeting with representatives from the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) throughout the summer to discuss issues like staffing. TECT, which is the largest unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), represents about 4,000 elementary teachers at the TCDSB
"Unfortunately, senior management has decided to unilaterally implement staffing changes that are ill-conceived and in violation of the collective agreement," Altomare-DiNunzio wrote, going on to accuse the board of "using COVID-19 as a means to unnecessarily strip member rights."
The collective agreement includes some provisions that allow teachers to have choice in their assignments based on seniority, Altomare-DiNunzio said, and the chaos caused by the last-minute changes to COVID-19 plans have thrown that out the window.
With about 30 per cent of students opting for virtual learning, teachers are being declared surplus at the last moment without clarity on whether they will have a virtual learning assignment, while others are requesting virtual assignments for health reasons without knowing if they will be granted.
When teachers don't know what grade — or what grades, in the case of combined classes — that they'll be teaching, they aren't able to prepare their classrooms and lesson plans, she said.
In her email, she asked members to request documentation from the board if they are declared surplus or are reassigned and to make it known that they "object to the actions of the board."
"At this point in time, please keep any responses from the Board on file, as this documentation will be useful in supporting any future actions by the Association," Altomare-DiNunzio wrote in her email, adding that her unit has consulted with the provincial union and legal counsel about options for members including filing grievances.
Altomare-DiNunzio also asked TECT members to send in photos of "health and safety concerns," giving examples of windows not opening, minimal signage or not being able to physical distance in classrooms.
These photos will be of assistance in documenting the conditions in our schools," she wrote.
While her local usually has a co-operative relationship with the board, there hasn't been adequate consultation in this chaotic year, she said.
The root cause of all of that is the shifting and last-minute plans from the provincial government.
“The biggest blame, would be for sure, would be on the ministry,” she said.
In an emailed statement, the Toronto District Catholic School Board said it is committed to a safe learning environment.
"The Board is actively working to navigate the challenges of students and staff safe return to learning this Monday," it said. "We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in approaches that may not be fully captured in the existing collective agreement, such as virtual school. We are consulting with Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers (TECT) as much as possible and are working to support our teachers and ensure the best possible year ahead."
Another Liberal candidate
The Ontario Liberal Party has announced another candidate.
The party named David Morris, who previously ran for the Liberals during the 2018 provincial election, as a candidate for Toronto Centre — the riding currently held by NDP MPP Suze Morrison.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Morris' community involvement work has had "an immeasurable impact." The Liberal party described Morris as "someone who builds spaces for neighbours, friends and strangers to come together and find support."
Morris has been serving as chair of The 519 community centre, an organization that states on its website is "committed to the health, happiness and full participation of the LGBTQ2S communities." He has a bachelor of education, international honours bachelor of arts and a master’s degree. T
"When I first put my name on the ballot in 2018, it was because I believed in Liberal values of fairness, inclusion and progressive change," said Morris in a statement. "Today, in these unprecedented times, leadership centered on those values is even more crucial — and the residents of Toronto Centre want to see a real plan to make life easier for those in our communities who are most often left behind."
— David Morris (@DavidMorris_TO) September 8, 2020
More funding to fight FASD
Ontario is adding $3 million annually to better support people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
The funding will be used for more support workers. Children, Community and Social Services Minister Todd Smith made the announcement in Kitchener on International FASD Awareness Day.
"This additional funding is part of our government's ongoing commitment to support children and youth with special needs," Smith said. "We heard from advocates, families and caregivers looking for more help with the day-to-day challenges of supporting children with FASD. These initiatives will not only help to end the stigma of this disorder but raise awareness and empower families as they care for loved ones."
The investment will be used for new family workshops; more service provider training; support for family and caregiver support groups; a public awareness campaign; and to hire 26 more FASD support workers, Smith's office said in a release.
Hospital expansion in Moosonee
The Ford government is putting up $19.4 million to develop a culturally appropriate health campus in Moosonee. The campus will include a new hospital and a lodge, as well as a new ambulatory care centre on Moose Factory Island.
"Expanding services provided by Weeneebayko Area Health Authority is essential to help fix the long-standing challenges with accessing care in Moosonee, Moose Factory Island and across northern Ontario," Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement. "This funding will help ensure that the people and families living along the James Bay Coast will have access to the facilities and services needed to meet the growing needs of the community. Investing in hospital infrastructure is part of our government's plan to end hallway health care across the province."
The new Weeneebayko General Hospital will be relocated to Moosonee from Moose Factory Island. It will contain 36 beds, expanded mental health and addictions programming, and modern surgical suites, the government said in a release. A new 32-bed lodge will be built in Moosonee, allowing local elders to remain in the community while receiving care.
The current hospital on Moose Factory Island will be redeveloped into an ambulatory care centre. It will include emergency health services, diagnostic imaging and physiotherapy.