No Return to Normal in B.C. ‘for Some Time,’ Dr. Bonnie Henry Says

A return to normal life may still be a long way off for B.C. and it will depend on people staying at home, washing their hands and maintaining physical distances, according to the provincial health officer.  On April 15 Dr. Bonnie Henry said that while B.C. has managed to hold COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations to manageable levels, “we are not at the end of our beginning yet.”  She said she doesn’t foresee any lifting of the restrictions on daily life within the next two weeks or even three weeks.  

“Normal is going to look quite different for some time,” Henry said.  “There are some measures that we are not going to be able to stop doing until we have enough immunity in our community … to prevent transmission and to prevent a lot of people from becoming sick in a short time.”  That immunity can only come one of two ways — through infection or through development of a vaccine. Until then, physical distancing and frequent hand washing will remain the norm.

Henry said she doesn’t foresee any changes to how British Columbians go grocery shopping or visit the pharmacy in the near future.  “It’s important for us to be patient and to be kind to each other. It is going to be some weeks before we can let up even a little bit,” she said.

But planning is underway for how certain restrictions could be loosened, beginning with things like restarting certain parts of the health-care system that have been put on hold and reopening some businesses that can operate with safe distances between people.  Henry said any major changes will depend on things like ensuring there’s enough personal protective equipment for health-care workers and enough capacity in the health-care system.  It will also mean implementing broader COVID-19 testing in the community, and potentially bringing in serological testing to determine who has developed immunity through infection.

Health Minister Adrian Dix emphasized that the only way B.C. can begin opening up again is if the curve of infection is truly flattened.  “When so many people have sacrificed so much, sometimes by choice, sometimes not by choice, we really have to be 100% all in now,” he said.

Source: CBC

Broader Testing for COVID-19 Being Considered Before Manitoba Economy Reopens, Premier Says

Manitoba has opened up its COVID-19 testing criteria to include a wide swath of Manitobans, including all workers or volunteers in workplaces deemed “essential services” who are showing symptoms of the illness.  Dwindling test numbers over the past week prompted the province to expand its testing criteria, said Manitoba chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin on April 16. 

The province’s Cadham Provincial Lab completed 449 tests on April 15, and less than 400 each day on April 13 and 14. At its peak, the lab was able to complete 1,300 tests in a single day on April 1.  “There is no backlog at the lab, so the low numbers all reflect the demand [and] amount of people showing up for testing,” Roussin said. “I think that that’s our biggest indicator that we want to expand testing.”

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the province is looking at the need for more widespread testing for COVID-19 before eventually reopening the provincial economy.  Reopening Manitoba’s economy is “vital,” Pallister told reporters during a briefing on updated COVID-19 measures. “We know that through increased testing there is an increased possibility that we’ll be able to build confidence — not only in the general public, but in the health officials whose guidance we must listen to — that we are not opening the door to a resurgence in COVID infections in our province,” he said.

Previously, Manitoba has only offered testing to symptomatic people in certain higher-risk categories, including health-care workers, people who have travelled recently, and known contacts of those with COVID-19. People in remote communities, long-term care centres, jails and shelters are also already being tested, as are patients hospitalized for respiratory symptoms. 

The expansion includes a “quite vast” category of workers and volunteers, Roussin said.  The testing expansion will also include any symptomatic person who lives with a health-care worker, first responder or someone who works in a “congregate setting,” such as correctional facilities, shelters and long-term care homes.  “The next next step might be to just open it to all symptomatic individuals,” Roussin said on Thursday April 16. “It really depends on what our numbers tell us.”  

Pallister addressed reporters at news conference to announce the official launch of an online therapy program to support Manitobans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AbilitiCBT program is a virtual therapy program offering digital cognitive behavioural therapy for free to Manitobans. More than 800 people have pre-registered for the program, Pallister said, including nearly 600 people who are already getting help.  The province hired Morneau Shepell, a private Canadian tech and human resources consulting company, to create the program.

The online therapy tool is guided by professional therapists. It addresses mild to moderate anxiety symptoms related to some of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, ranging from uncertainty and stress management to physical isolation and information overload. It’s available to all Manitobans 16 or older, and you don’t need a doctor’s referral to get in. People who want to participate can register online, and then they’ll be asked to download an app and complete a questionnaire. After that, a therapist will reach out within three days for an initial assessment over the phone, the province said. From there, people complete 10 modules on the app, with monitoring and scheduled check-ins from the therapist.  

Pallister also gave updates on the status of a handful of other previously announced initiatives to help tackle COVID-19 in the province. Close to 50 retired nurses are involved in a program to bring retired nurses back to work, he said. More than 6,300 people have signed up to help other Manitobans through the Help Next Door MB online tool, Pallister said. The province partnered with Winnipeg-based North Forge Technology Exchange to build the tool, which connects volunteers with people who need help. The premier added that 88% of child-care requests from Manitoba critical workers have been filled. With 2,543 child-care requests received so far from critical workers, that means 2,228 were matched.

Source: CBC

Montreal Looks for ‘Winning Conditions’ to Restart Economy and Keep Everyone Safe

Quebec has begun loosening restrictions on non-essential businesses, and stay-at-home orders may soon be scaled back as the rate of increase in COVID-19 infections in the province starts to come down.  But with a vaccine likely more than a year away, how can Montreal restart its economic engine? 

How that will happen is exactly what Mayor Valérie Plante and business leaders across the city are trying to figure out, in collaboration with public health authorities.  “We really want to bring together the winning conditions so the deconfinement is safe,” Plante said.  Premier François Legault has made it clear that reopening the economy will be done gradually, but Plante says whatever is done in the rest of the province won’t necessarily apply to densely populated Montreal.  

As for when Montreal will be open for business, the regional public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, said it’s “pretty difficult to give a date.”  Drouin said people are going to have to get used to covering their faces with a mask or scarf, and she confirmed that restaurants and bars “are not going to be the first places to open.”  

Plante will soon unveil her economic recovery plan, with the hope that the city will be “even stronger” than before, but “the challenges in terms of public transit and the management of public spaces are the greatest,” she said.  Plante told CBC News that the city is working with its public transit agency, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), to find ways to get people to work safely.  But Philippe Schnobb, STM’s chair, admits that’s no easy task. STM’s top brass has been discussing this conundrum with groups like the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal — looking at options such as staggering work hours to reduce rush-hour crowding. 

Despite having only a few weeks to plan, Schnobb remains confident solutions will be found before transit users return to the daily grind.  Picking up ridership will be critical to the agency’s bottom line. At the start of April, an STM analysis revealed that week-day bus trips, normally about 140,000 a day, dropped 83%, and the Metro system’s 99,000 daily trips dropped by 90%.  

Implementing staggered work hours isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds, said Gopinath Jeyabalaratnam, Quebec policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.  However, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Michel Leblanc, said staggering work hours is possible if it’s done carefully. 

Working from home is going to have to become the norm for those who can, he said. But not all companies can provide the needed technology, such as servers and laptops, to make that possible. That’s why the government must help businesses drop the traditional office model, Jeyabalaratnam said.

Jeyabalaratnam also said many of Montreal’s 60,000 businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and he said there needs to be more support from all levels of government to help them cover overhead like rent.  “The economy right now is in an artificial coma,” he said. “If you don’t feed it, it doesn’t work.”  “The patient — in this case the economy — will die.”

Leblanc said businesses have to prepare for an all new way of operating in a pandemic, but it can’t be done without help from authorities.  He said public health needs to provide clear rules and protocols for workplace safety and help businesses prepare. Montrealers must be able to return to tightly packed spaces like elevators and Metro cars safely, even if it means everybody wears a mask, he said.

The city also needs to be ready to help manage lines as they form on sidewalks in front of businesses that are limiting occupancy.  Despite all that needs to be done, Leblanc said, he trusts that citizens will do their part.  “We have all been happily surprised by the discipline that Montrealers and Quebecers have [shown],” said Leblanc.  People will do whatever it takes, such as wearing homemade masks in public and keeping a safe distance, to start to resume near-normal lives. 

Source: CBC