COVID-19 Update 15, June 23

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Ontario’s nursing homes have had 22 years to do safety upgrades. COVID-19 reveals deadly cost of delay. Hardest hit nursing homes are still operating at 1972 structural safety standard — and most are owned by for-profit companies.

  • A failure to make safety upgrades to their buildings in the past two decades appears to have left many long-term-care homes particularly vulnerable to the deadly spread of COVID-19.
  • Since the pandemic began earlier this year, almost half of Ontario’s long-term care homes have suffered outbreaks. For some facilities, a handful of residents fell ill and eventually recovered. For others, as many as 45 per cent of their residents died.
  • Ontario changed its structural safety standards back in 1998 — mandating, among other things, that nursing home bedrooms should house no more than two residents. Homes that didn’t meet the new standard were allowed to keep running as-is, with an expectation they would upgrade eventually. The vast majority of homes that haven’t yet upgraded are run by for-profit companies. CBC Marketplace, June 9.

From the Council of Canadians, June 12: While Premier Doug Ford alternates between wringing his hands and pointing fingers of blame, his government is rushing through a new law that will make things even worse for seniors.

  • Bill 175, the so-called “Connecting People to Home and Community Care Act,” will deregulate and expand privatization of homecare health services in Ontario. More than 730,000 people rely on homecare services to stay in their own homes, or to supplement care in their retirement home. Premier Ford’s profit-driven agenda of privatization and cutting “red tape” will make our seniors even more vulnerable. Bill-175 was introduced in March and is now being rushed through the legislative process. It could be passed later this month.
  • The privatization and deregulation of long-term care in Ontario expanded greatly under the leadership of former Conservative Premier Mike Harris. This is the same Mike Harris who has collected millions with a cushy part-time job as Chair of the Board of the Board of Directors at Chartwell, a for-profit corporation that owns and manages seniors’ homes, including long-term care facilities in Ontario. Chartwell just recorded an annual profit of $197 million while reporting 97 deaths in their long-term care facilities due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Australia’s COVID-19 successes shine a light on Canada’s troubled long-term care sector.

  • When COVID 19 came to Australia,” he said, “many of the care providers basically locked-down and implemented their pandemic plans for infection control. They stopped families from coming in. They didn’t have staff working from one facility to another facility, and generally that’s not the case in Australia anyway.”
    In Canada, the fact that some long-term care workers initially had to find shifts in multiple facilities to make a living was a significant contributor to the spread of COVID-19. CBC, June 13.

Geronticide Update, June 20: Canada deaths 8410, LTC deaths 6978, 83.0%.

As the world prepares for future waves of COVID-19, the ability to predict mutations in the novel coronavirus even before they emerge will be essential to stopping future outbreaks. UBC, Faculty of Medicine, June 5

  • Dr. Robert Brunham and Dr. Natalie Strynadka, together with the faculty of science’s Steven Plotkin—along with a team of commercial and academic collaborators—are one step closer to achieving this thanks to a $1.8 million grant from the Digital Technology Supercluster COVID-19 Program, which aims to find solutions to urgent health care needs across Canada arising from COVID-19.
  • The project, “Predicting the Evolution of COVID-19,” brings together experts in artificial intelligence, computer modelling and structural biology to predict changes to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The findings will inform the early design of effective tests, therapies and vaccines, allowing public health systems globally to prepare and ideally prevent future pandemics caused by evolving strains of the virus.

Geography, leadership and sheer luck: Why B.C. and N.B. flattened the curve so quickly.

  • But experts say while sheer luck may have something to do with it, both provinces are shining examples of how quick decision making and strong leadership is needed for effective public health response in times of crisis.
  • According to Dr. Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa: “B.C. and New Brunswick got lucky in some ways, but what we can learn from them is a consistent, central, competent public health voice; clear, consistent, modern public health dataflow; and, early competent and hard public health measures put in place,”
  • “It was a kind of ragged, inconsistent, and grudging way in Ontario and Quebec, whereas B.C. showed strong leadership early on and they are reaping the dividends now.”
  • Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s health officer, has been praised internationally for her response to the outbreak. BC had one strong, competent public health voice, and she as a figurehead has been quite strong in all this, and everyone goes to her for leadership in this matter,”
  • New Brunswick also had a leg up geographically.“New Brunswick got lucky in that many older, vulnerable population was more rural,” explained, a luck factor that health officials themselves pointed to as a reason for their success. Less international traffic through the province’s airports may have also played a role”, explained Deonandan. CTV News, June 12.

Pandemic worsens Canada’s deadly opioid overdose epidemic: Ontario’s coroner reported a 25% rise in fatal overdoses as advocates warn of increasingly toxic street drugs. CBC, June 9.

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According to Zhang Boli, a top-level consultant in the fight against COVID-19 and academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has played a helping role in treating 92 percent of the COVID-19 cases nationwide.

  • Chinese experts and doctors provided clinical trial data on the efficacy and safety of Lianhua Qingwen capsules taken by COVID-19 patients, and found that the capsules can apparently relieve symptoms and increase recovery rates among patients with wild symptoms. The medicine is registered in Canada, Mozambique, Indonesia, Brazil, and Romania, with other countries expressing interest. globaltimes.cn, June 8.

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In the midst of the global pandemic, a student is helping India keep track of COVID-19 infection rates.

  • Computer science major Jeremy Philemon is splitting his education between the Vellore Institute of Technology in India and Binghamton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. He has applied his skills in the creation and updating of covid19india.org, a website that aggregates data from every part of the country of 1.35 billion people.
  • He started the website in early March 2020 when India saw a sudden jump in positive COVID-19 cases. He realized there was no central place for residents and officials to find data on infection rates. Over the past two months, covid19india.org has received more than 1.75 billion page views. medicalxpress.com , May 20.

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‘Enormous disparities’: coronavirus death rates expose Brazil’s deep racial inequalities. Poverty, poor access to health services and overcrowding all play a part in disproportionate number of deaths, say researchers.

  • The virus is scything through the country’s poorer suburbs, favelas and low-income towns such as São João de Meriti – where 63% of the population self-declared as black or mixed race in Brazil’s last census in 2010, compared to 48% in nearby Rio de Janeiro. As of 8 June Brazil had almost 700,000 confirmed cases and 37,000 deaths.
  • The virus is not as democratic as it initially seemed. Government statistics show it is more lethal for BAME people in the UK. Figures reveal a higher mortality rate for black Americans. And a new study added to evidence that the virus is killing proportionally more black Brazilians than whites, exposing, in sharp relief, the country’s staggering inequalities. The Guardian, June 9.

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The number of coronavirus deaths in the UK would have been halved if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier, a former government adviser has said.

  • Prof Neil Ferguson, whose advice was crucial to the decision to go into lockdown, said the outbreak had been doubling in size every three or four days before measures had been taken. BBC, June 10. According to data released by UK police, the rate of hate crimes against Chinese from January to March nearly tripled that of the previous two years.
  • At least 267 offences were recorded against Chinese, Eastern, and Southeastern Asians during the first three months of the year, compared with 375 hate crimes for 2019, and 360 in 2018. The crimes included assault, robbery, harassment, and criminal damage. globaltimes.cn, June 9.

The Lancet’s editor Richard Horton does not hold back in his criticism of the UK’s response to the pandemic and the medical establishment’s part in backing fatal government decisions: the UK response to coronavirus is the greatest science policy failure for a generation.

  • An outspoken critic of what he sees as the medical science establishment’s acquiescence to government, he has written a book that he calls a “reckoning” for the missed opportunities and appalling misjudgments” here and abroad that have led to “the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of citizens”. The Guardian, June 14.

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German COVID-19 infection rate jumps to 2.88 after meat plant outbreak.

  • More than 1,000 employees of a meat processing plant have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in the district of Guetersloh, in the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia. The plant has been temporarily closed and employees, as well as members of their households, have been put under quarantine. Local schools have also been closed.
  • Several schools were also closed in Magdeburg, in the north-eastern state of Saxony- Anhalt, while several buildings in the capital, Berlin, were placed under quarantine following an outbreak linked to members of a religious community. So far, 85 cases are linked to this outbreak.
  • Other localised clusters were reported among members of religious communities in the states of Hesse and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and in retirement homes.
  • The latest report from Germany’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute, published on Sunday puts the four-day infection rate, the R-value, at 2.88, up from 1.79 on Saturday. On June 18, it stood at 0.86.
  • The 7-day R-value has meanwhile risen to 2.03 from 1.55, having stood at 1.00 the previous day. The R-value measures the number of people an infected person may pass the virus on to. If it is equal to one, it means that one person is infecting another one. euronews.com, June 22.

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At least 28 states are not following CDC guidelines for coronavirus reporting, which would make it hard for health experts and lawmakers to decide what to do next.

  • The states are not reporting probable cases, which include people who show evidence of an infection without the confirmation of a lab test. Accurate rates of new cases help officials track how the disease is spreading and inform decisions about how and when to loosen restrictions.
  • These fuzzy reporting numbers come as 19 states are seeing increases in their cases. In Arizona, things have gotten so bad again that the state has told its hospitals to activate emergency plans. More than 1.9 million people have been infected by the virus in the US, and more than 112,000 have died. CNN, June 10.

Two Missouri hairstylists potentially exposed 140 clients to coronavirus but no one got infected. Both stylists worked at the same location for more than a week in mid-May even though they had symptoms at the time, local health officials said. The clients and the stylists all wore face coverings, and the salon had set up other measures such as social distancing of chairs and staggered appointments, CNN, June 11.

States highest on the Godliness Index have the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates. According to a report recently published by the Department of ImmunoTheology at Jesus Knows Best University, the four states ranking highest on the Multiphasic State Godliness Index (MSGi) were Montana, 87.9, 19 Deaths /M, Wyoming, 85.1, 31/M, Alaska, 84.2, 12/M, and Idaho, 81.7, 60/M, The four states lowest on MSGi: New York, 4.56, 1598/M, Massachusetts, 8.36, 1127/M, District of Columbia, 12.76, 747/M, and New Jersey, 16.65, 1455/M.

Researchers in Florida say they believe they have shown that the new coronavirus has mutated in a way that makes it more easily infect human cells.

  • They say more research is needed to show whether the change has altered the course of the pandemic, but at least one researcher not involved in the study says it likely has, and the changes may explain why the virus has caused so many infections in the United States and Latin America. It’s a mutation that scientists have been worried about for weeks. CNN, June 12.

The data official behind Florida’s Covid-19 dashboard has launched her own dashboard after being removed from the state’s project.

  • Rebekah Jones was removed from the state’s scrutinized dashboard project after she questioned other officials’ commitment to accessibility and transparency. Last month, Florida Gov. Ron De Santis contested Jones’ claims. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) said she had “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination” during her tenure there.
  • Jones’s website floridacovidaction.com “is paid for entirely by donations. Florida deserves a community based dashboard that doesn’t hide or fudge numbers,” the page says. The community dashboard reported 83,270 positive cases with 3,022 deaths since March 1 while the state dashboard reported 75,568 total positives and 2,931 deaths as of Monday morning. CNN, June 15.

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Countries that successfully kept COVID-19 infections and deaths down not only acted early but in a more community-centred way, says a public-health physician who aims to improve preparedness for the next wave and beyond.

  • Dr. Saverio Stranges chairs the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University’s medical school in London, Ont. In a recent commentary in the International Journal of Health Policy and Management, he examined some of the reasons why places like South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Germany curbed community transmission of the novel coronavirus early on compared with Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom and the U.S. The paper’s authors gave successful examples, such as:
    • South Korea’s rapid expansion of diagnostic capacity and innovative drive-through and walk-in screening.
    • Quarantine of suspected cases and mass masking in Vietnam.
    • Taiwan’s efforts to address stigma associated with people who test positive.
    • Germany’s extensive testing policy to identify milder cases, including in younger people. CBC, June 14.

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Tragically, in some places far more than others, the response to COVID-19 has been politicized and corrupted to benefit the few at the expense of the many. As a consequence, the reported case and death numbers are not trustworthy.

For Germany, several weeks of very low new case percentages ended with a large outbreak of over 1000 employees infected at a meat processing plant in the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia. In May, with 949 employees testing positive and 1560 cases linked to the plant, the largest COVID-19 outbreak in North America was at a meat processing plant in Cargill, Alberta. Eating meat, whether wild or bred for slaughter, is bad for individual and public health, and for the planet.

For Canada and the UK this stage of COVID-19 is pretty much over. The numbers of daily new infection percentages are quite similar, but the two countries arrived at this oint in very different ways. The fact that the UK’s mortality rate is 2.8 times higher than Canada’s indicates UK’s failure to act promptly and decisively, and consequently to flatten the curve of contagion. For both countries, the high fatality rates are evidence of a tragic failure to protect seniors in long term care. Of Canada’s 224 deaths/M 83% – 186/M were residents of LTC institutions.

The Russian numbers including the fatality rate, the testing rate, the number of cases and deaths, and the daily new percentages are purely fictional. The rosy picture is in preparation for the coming referendum to allow Putin to be the President For Ever. It brings back the memories of the old Soviet Union.

Although California has acted promptly to implement proper public health measures and has kept them in place longer, until recently the daily new infection percentages  ere as high or higher than in Georgia, Texas and Florida which started reopening sooner. The most likely reason is that California’s numbers are far more trustworthy than the other three states’ where there has been political pressure to hide the truth. Now, the virus is sweeping Texas and Florida, the future epicentres in the US. In comparison to those two states, Georgia’s continuing low new daily infection rates are
not credible.

In Latin America, Africa and India, the tools to deal with the pandemic are sorely lacking. With low levels of testing and resource shortages, the reported numbers significantly underestimate reality. Brazil’s reported numbers are a tip of a very large iceberg. One expert estimates the true number of cases at 10 million. Through his words, actions and policies, Bolsonaro has personally caused the deaths of thousands of Brazilians. His policies do enormous, irreversible damage to the Amazon Rainforest. He is guilty crimes against humanity.

The pandemic is raging across Latin America, with Africa and India somewhat behind and the future looks bleak. The fact that South Africa’s daily new infection rates are the highest in Table 1 likely reflects their testing rate being higher in comparison to other countries south of the Equator.

AP, Toronto, 11:45 AM, June 23.


Andrew Pakula is a long time peace activist and has been a member of Science for Peace from the very beginning. He is a retired social research and management consultant with a background in social psychology.

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