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Health Canada approves Ottawa company’s rapid COVID-19 test kits

Kyle Mack | posted Monday, Apr 13th, 2020

A rapid, portable testing device for COVID-19 developed by an Ottawa company has received approval from Health Canada.

The device, which was developed by Spartan Bioscience, is a handheld DNA analyzer that allows hospitals and other institutions to independently test patients and receive results without having to send the samples away to a provincial or national lab.

The device comes with its own test cartridges and proprietary swabs, which are manufactured in Ottawa.

The test can be administered by “non-laboratory personnel” in places such as airports, border crossings, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, clinics, and remote communities.

In a release, the company said the tests can now be shipped to “Spartan’s federal and provincial government partners starting immediately.”

“We are grateful to the Government of Canada for working closely with us to expedite the review and approval process,” Paul Lem, CEO of Spartan Bioscience, said in a release.

“We are ready to start shipping our portable COVID-19 test to the federal and provincial governments, and to make them widely available to Canadians.”

A worldwide shortage of medical swabs has slowed down the traditional testing, which is especially being felt in Ontario. Until recently, the province has had the lowest testing rate for COVID-19 in Canada.

Julia Grieve’s DIY Egg Dyeing + Butter Tart Recipes

Julia Grieve | posted Friday, Apr 10th, 2020

No-Waste Eggs:

You can dye these hardboiled eggs, and they’ll keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. If you’re using them as decorations, don’t leave them out of the fridge longer than 2 hours.

MIX: Litre of water + 2 tablespoons of white vinegar

Dye with Beets (pink)

boil a litre of water with 2 table spoons of white vinegar

4 cups chopped beets

Let simmer for 30 mins, then strain, let mixture cool and place eggs in mixture for 30 mins, or longer for deeper tones

Dye with Cabbage (light blue)

Boil litre of water with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar

Add 3 cups of purple or red cabbage and simmer for 30 mins, let mixture cool and add eggs

Allow eggs to soak overnight (in the fridge) for the brightest blue

Dye with Tumeric (yellow)

Boil litre of water with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar

Add 3 tablespoons of turmeric, let simmer for 30 minutes. Let mixture cool and add eggs. Let it soak until the desired colour is reached.

Julia and Mimi’s Plant-Based Butter Tarts:

Plant-based meets patriotic with this Canadian classic. Rich, flaky, perfectly sweet – a dozen may not be enough.

12 tarts

Prep Time: 20 minutes Chill Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Stand Time: 2 minutes

375 mL 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 mL 1/4 tsp. salt

125 mL 4 oz plus 2 Tbsp. Becel® unsalted plant-based bricks, divided

45 mL 3 Tbsp. iced water

10 mL 2 tsp. white vinegar, divided

125 mL 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

60 mL 1/4 cup corn syrup

30 mL 2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

1 egg

5 mL 1 tsp. vanilla extract

125 mL 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Grease 12 nonstick muffin cups; set aside. Combine flour with salt in medium bowl.

Cut in Becel® with pastry blender or fingertips, just until large crumbs begin to form.

Whisk water with 1 tsp. (5 mL) vinegar. Add just enough water mixture to flour mixture to form dough, while stirring flour mixture with fork.

Shape into a ball, then cover with plastic wrap; flatten dough into a disc.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Whisk brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, egg, remaining 2 Tbsp. (30 mL) melted Becel, vanilla and remaining tsp (5 mL) vinegar.

Roll dough on lightly floured surface about 0.5 cm thick. Cut out 12 (4-in/10 cm) circles, using a lightly floured glass or circle cutter. Press circles into prepared muffin cups.

Fill cups evenly with pecans, then brown sugar mixture. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375°F (190°C). Bake an additional 10 minutes or until deep golden.

Let stand in pan 2 minutes, then remove to wire rack and cool completely.

People needing addiction services feeling ‘abandoned’ during pandemic

CAMILLE BAINS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Apr 9th, 2020

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s former provincial health officer says he has “grave concerns” about reduced services because of COVID-19 for people struggling with drug addiction, while the manager of a supervised consumption site in Toronto says people are feeling abandoned.

Dr. Perry Kendall declared an ongoing public health emergency in B.C. four years ago as the province led the country with a record number of overdose deaths fuelled by the opioid fentanyl.

Services were ramped up through more overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites in B.C. as was distribution of take-home kits of naloxone, a medication used to reverse overdoses.

“We were making steps and strides in addressing stigma and creating access to a continuum of care, from harm reduction to medication assistance or to recovery, if that was your goal,” said Kendall, who is co-interim executive director of the BC Centre on Substance Use.

He said widespread job losses and more homelessness due to physical distancing at shelters have created even greater challenges for those battling substance use.

“Hopefully we’ll have the courage and the political will and the money to try and address it when we come through the other side of this. There are very, very, very vulnerable people out there and stigma is still raging.”

Kendall said recent amendments to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were a positive move for illicit drug users as doctors can now prescribe a broader range of safer substances, such as stimulants, benzodiazepines and hydromorphone, for those with an addiction to opioids.

However, there aren’t enough prescribers despite a BC Centre on Substance Use program that has offered online training since 2017 in addiction medicine, nor adequate linkages to care, he said.

The province is trying to increase access to addiction care through a phone line of experts, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

“We’re working now to set that up as quickly as we can because of this double challenge of the COVID pandemic on top of the opioid overdose epidemic,” said Kendall, who recently returned from retirement to serve on a COVID-19 advisory committee to the  provincial health officer.

Jen Ko, program manager of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Toronto, said some of the nine overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites in the city have seen their hours cut, including one run by Toronto Public Health after an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff in late March.

“Folks are really isolated, really abandoned,” Ko said, adding that drop-in and meal programs have been suspended for the most vulnerable people, who can no longer make their usual social connection with employees wearing personal protective equipment.

“A lot of the things that people come to the service for are the human services, the connection to the staff, the conversation and support but being in PPE (means) nobody can tell who is who.”

Dr. Rita Shahin, associate medical health officer for Toronto Public Health, said one supervised injection site was closed temporarily on March 18 because of lineups and large groups gathered outside the building.

She said in an email the number of booths where drug users inject their own substances has also been reduced to two from six to maintain physical distancing.

There have also been cases of COVID-19 among staff, including those at the site, Shahin said.

Toronto had its highest number of overdose fatalities in a year last month, when 19 people died, she said.

“We want to encourage people not to use drugs alone, have a naloxone kit on hand and use a supervised consumption service if possible.”

Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, deputy chief medical health officer for the Vancouver Coastal Health authority, said some overdose prevention sites were temporarily closed due to concerns over physical distancing. But others, including the supervised injection facility Insite, continued operating as essential services that don’t require such measures.

Lysyshyn is concerned that visits to the sites have dropped by half in recent weeks.

“Some of this was because we had those temporary closures but it could also be that people are afraid to come to them because they’re worried that they will be exposed to COVID, so the alternative is to use drugs alone, which we know is a super dangerous activity.”

Two weeks ago, police in Vancouver responded to eight suspected overdose deaths, the highest number since August after a decline in fatalities over the past year, the city said.

Lysyshyn said access to illicit drugs has been more difficult for users with the Canada-U.S. border closed to non-essential travel, but the new prescribing guidelines have been positive.

“We may see that has helped people and that will move ahead the safe supply programs that were being proposed before the pandemic.”

Kirsten Duncan, a social worker in addiction medicine in acute care at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, said the resources discharged patients were referred to have mostly shut down though some have been offering online support.

“But the population we quite often deal with is street entrenched and quite often doesn’t have access to telephones and doesn’t have access to computers,” she said.

“These groups that have huge histories with trauma already, let alone the trauma of the fentanyl crisis, I can’t imagine what another crisis on top of things will do.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2020.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Researchers to study whether plasma of recovered patients can treat COVID-19

JEAN-BENOIT LEGAULT, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Apr 9th, 2020

MONTREAL — Researchers from across Canada will collaborate on a vast clinical trial to study whether the plasma of recovered patients can be used to treat COVID-19.

The study, the largest to date ever done on the subject, will include about 50 Canadian institutions, including 15 in Quebec.

“It’s a therapy to treat the illness,” said one of the lead researchers, Dr. Philippe Begin of Montreal’s CHU Ste-Justine hospital.

“We’re talking about passive immunizations, while with a vaccine we’re talking about active immunization.”

Passive immunization consists of transfusing plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 — called convalescent plasma — to patients in the early stages of the illness in order to provide protective antibodies and hopefully limit the severity of symptoms.

Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood that contains the antibodies that protect against illness.

Begin cited the proverb, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Teaching someone to fish, he said, would be the equivalent of a vaccine that prompts the body to make its own antibodies.

But with no vaccine available, convalescent plasma is the best alternative.

“But now we don’t have time, because we don’t yet know how to fish, so we can’t really teach it,” he said. “So the idea is that we just give the antibodies created by someone else.”

The approach was used before the development of vaccines to combat epidemics, and it’s not the first time the idea of using convalescent plasma has been raised in the fight against COVID-19. But thus far, the evidence in favour remains largely anecdotal and of poor scientific quality.

The study will include researchers from the Universite de Montreal, the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Hema-Quebec, McMaster University, and Sunnybrook and SickKids hospitals in Toronto, among others.

Begin admitted researchers are running “a little blind” when it comes to the use of plasma.

“We don’t have a ton of studies that tell us, it takes this kind of antibody, or this amount of plasma,” he said.

The best way to get answers is to assemble as much data as possible, as quickly as possible, he said.

“We want to go fast, and the best way to go fast is have several of us following the same protocol to put all the data together,” he said.

“We have colleagues in other countries who are interested and with whom we share our protocols.”

Plasma will be collected about a month after a patient recovers, when antibody levels are at their highest. COVID-19 was first reported in Quebec in late February, and the number of potential donors in the province remains low, although it’s growing.

Therefore, the researchers have decided the convalescent plasma will be reserved for those who are suffering from the illness, although it’s not out of the question that it could be offered later to at-risk groups, such as health-care workers, as a preventive measure.

The study is expected to last about three months and involve more than 1,000 patients.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2020

Jean-Benoit Legault, The Canadian Press

WestJet to re-hire more than 6,000 employees

NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Apr 9th, 2020

WestJet is going to tap into the federal government’s emergency wage subsidy program to re-hire more than 6,000 workers.

The Calgary-based airline announced last month that it was reducing its staff by 50 per cent with all its international flights grounded and its domestic schedule cut back drastically.

But the company can put those people back on the payroll with Ottawa offering to cover 75 per cent of wages under the federal government’s stimulus efforts.

WestJet CEO Ed Sims made the announcement over social media on Wednesday night.

“We are pleased to announce that, after substantial discussions with the federal government, that we’ll be bringing almost 6,400 employees back on the WestJet payroll once the government has approved the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy program.”

However, Sims noted that it the move doesn’t mean people will be back on the job right away.

“This does not automatically mean that they will be coming back to work, as there may simply not be enough work there for them, but it will help them make ends meet.”

Sims added that he was grateful for the work by the Canadian government for implementing tools that will keep businesses running “through these most challenging of times.”

The announcement by WestJet comes after Air Canada announced it was also bringing more than 16,000 workers using the same program.

Canadians urged to include pets in their COVID-19 emergency plans

BILL GRAVELAND, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Apr 8th, 2020

CALGARY — Melissa David has seen the toll pandemic-related financial and physical strain can have on pet owners.

She runs a charity called Parachutes for Pets, which provides subsidized pet care including food hampers and medical care, for low-income residents.

“We put out 200 hampers the last two weeks of March. Normally we do about 25 a month to older people,” Bond said.

“People were literally sending us pictures of their last cup of food in their dog bag. We’re like okay we’re going to have to pool our resources and try to do what is absolutely urgent for the next month or so or however long this goes on.”

David feels strongly about making sure pets are taken care of during the COVID-19 outbreak. After all, she relies on her three dogs for support.

“They’re absolutely my lifeline. Just having their companionship and their support. My husband’s a truck driver so he’s not always home so having them is huge.”

Humane Canada, which represents humane societies and SPCAs across the country, is urging Canadians to consider their pets as part of their emergency preparedness.

“First of all, I’ve got to have enough in the house if I have to be quarantined then I need a couple of weeks of medicine and a couple of weeks of litter; a couple of weeks of food for my animals,” said Barbara Cartwright, the CEO of Humane Canada in Ottawa.

“What happens if I get sick and I get incapacitated or hospitalized? What’s the plan for my pet? Who will take care of them?” she asked.

“We’re recommending that people have at least three contacts that they can call upon to take care of their animals should they end up being hospitalized or they can no longer care for their own animals.”

Cartwright said the current pandemic has reinforced how important pets are in people’s lives. She said people also have to make sure that their furry friends observe social distancing from other animals and humans because in rare cases the animal can become infected as well.

“There’s no evidence that they can transmit to us but there is growing concern that we have to protect our pets from either getting it from other animals or getting it from other humans,” she said.

“If we’re sick we need to stay away from our animals.”

Jeanette Simeonid of Calgary spends nearly every waking moment with her two French bulldogs. One is a year old, the other is three-and-a-half months.

“I think I would go nuts if I didn’t have them because at least I can take a break and go for a walk if I need to just to get some fresh air and they totally keep you company. There’s always someone to talk to, to laugh with,” she said.

“I don’t know what I would do without them. You’re never alone. Even if you’re quarantined you’re never alone.”

Joanne Ginter, a senior psychologist with Sundancer Psychological Services in Calgary, said one of the best ways to deal with anxiety or depression during the pandemic is to have a routine, and that’s something pets require from their owners.

“The pets give you a schedule, which I think is very important for people because schedules help with anxiety, schedules help with depression. It gives us something to do during the day,” she said.

“The pets give you connection to another living being,” Ginter said.

“Any time that you feel out of control it helps if you have someone else to care about and pets give you that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020.

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Apr 8th, 2020

The latest numbers of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on April 8, 2020:

There are 17,897 confirmed and presumptive cases in Canada.

_ Quebec: 9,340 confirmed (including 150 deaths, 720 resolved)

_ Ontario: 4,726 confirmed (including 153 deaths, 1,802 resolved)

_ Alberta: 1,373 confirmed (including 26 deaths, 447 resolved)

_ British Columbia: 1,291 confirmed (including 43 deaths, 805 resolved)

_ Nova Scotia: 310 confirmed (including 1 death, 66 resolved)

_ Saskatchewan: 260 confirmed (including 3 deaths, 88 resolved)

_ Newfoundland and Labrador: 228 confirmed (including 2 deaths, 49 resolved)

_ Manitoba: 203 confirmed (including 3 deaths, 21 resolved), 14 presumptive

_ New Brunswick: 105 confirmed (including 39 resolved)

_ Prince Edward Island: 22 confirmed (including 8 resolved)

_ Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed

_ Yukon: 7 confirmed (including 4 resolved)

_ Northwest Territories: 5 confirmed (including 1 resolved)

_ Nunavut: No confirmed cases

_ Total: 17,897 (14 presumptive, 17,883 confirmed including 381 deaths, 4,050 resolved)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020.

The Canadian Press

More help on way for those not eligible for emergency aid programs

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Apr 8th, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce Wednesday further measures to financially support entrepreneurs, small businesses and young people who aren’t eligible for previously unveiled emergency federal aid programs.

Among other things, Trudeau is expected to announce a retooled Canada Summer Jobs program aimed at helping students find work in those industries that haven’t shut down due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government has already unveiled the $24-billion Canada Emergency Response Benefit for people who’ve lost their jobs and a $71-billion wage subsidy program for companies that have lost 30 per cent of their revenues because of the health crisis.

But in the rush to get those programs up and running as fast as possible, eligibility rules were set that threaten to leave hundreds of thousands of Canadians without financial assistance.

An analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives last week estimated one-third of unemployed Canadians, about 862,000, won’t get help from employment insurance or the CERB. Another 390,000 will get some help, but below the $500 per week under the CERB.

Among those who may be left out are contract or gig economy workers who want to keep small jobs or who can’t afford to go without work for two weeks to qualify for the emergency benefit.

Volunteer firefighters or municipal politicians who receive an honorarium for their work, even if they have lost their day jobs due to COVID-19, could also be shut out.

Trudeau has repeatedly affirmed that more help is coming for those who’ve fallen through the cracks between the emergency aid programs announced so far.

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said Tuesday that the government is moving into the “second stage” of its financial assistance.

The government is “considering other actions to help other people that may not have lost all their income but may have, may be working in conditions where they don’t have the income that the $2,000 (per month) CERB would otherwise provide,” Duclos said.

To qualify for the CERB, a worker must have earned at least $5,000 in the last year, seen their income drop to zero as a result of COVID-19, and either not worked — or don’t expect to work — for 14 days in the initial four-week period.

Small businesses have complained that the 30 per cent revenue loss required to be eligible for the 75 per cent wage subsidy is too restrictive and will leave out many companies.

The government was still in discussions late Tuesday with opposition parties about the details of the wage subsidy program, which needs to be approved by Parliament.

The first economic aid package, approved by a skeleton Parliament last month, became the subject of controversy when opposition parties discovered the Liberals were seeking extraordinary powers to spend, tax and borrow without parliamentary approval for almost two years.

What was supposed to be a brief return of Parliament, which has been adjourned since mid-March, turned into a day-long marathon of behind-the-scenes negotiations with opposition parties before the bill was finally passed in the wee hours of the morning.

This time, the government is hoping to avoid a repeat of that experience by negotiating the wage subsidy details with opposition parties in advance and only recalling Parliament once a consensus is reached.

Trudeau is expected to provide today an update on the progress of those discussions.

Alcoholics Anonymous wrestles with challenge of physical distancing

JOHN CHIDLEY-HILL, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 7th, 2020

When the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous was cancelled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it became clear the fellowship had to start getting creative.

The conference, originally scheduled for the first weekend of July, would have seen nearly 50,000 members meet in Detroit to share experiences and lessons in their shared struggles with addiction. But restrictions on public gatherings forced the cancellation of that event, as well as weekly meetings in countless communities.

“We just went, ‘Oh my God, this is real. Like, this is really real,’” said one AA member, who is also the alternate general service delegate for Area 82, which serves Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We were hopeful that this wasn’t going to be too long and then we got an email from General Service Office saying that the international world convention was cancelled,” she said.

Alcoholics Anonymous groups often meet in legion halls, churches, or other public meeting spaces. Those buildings have been closed by public health officials across Canada to help the slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Finding alternatives to in-person meetings has been a challenge.

The teleconferencing app Zoom has become a popular alternative because it allows people to call in from a land line.

However, for the first few weeks of physical distancing, AA was posting the co-ordinates of its Zoom meetings online and making them open to the public, which led to several incidents of online “trolls” posting graphic photos in the chatroom or harassing participants in other ways.

Passwords have since become the norm. But in a decentralized organization where anonymity is a central tenet, it’s hard enough to get the word out about online meetings, let alone passwords.

“I was in bed and my phone started ringing and it didn’t stop ringing for about three hours because people were trying to figure out how to find passwords for meetings because we didn’t have passwords the day before,” said the AA member who, as a service delegate, had her number posted on the area website. “That was a little learning curve.”

Another challenge is that AA works on the principle of attraction rather than promotion.

Members not only remain anonymous, but abide by the idea that the organization should have no opinion on outside issues. AA also never endorses or offers financial support or prestige to any outside organizations.

That makes it exceptionally difficult to announce that all meetings have moved online. Even for one member to be interviewed for this article, it required a vote by local members that then had to be approved by AA’s General Service Office in New York.

In the Atlantic region, AA has reached out to doctor’s offices, hospitals, and detox centres where addicts might wind up. Public service announcements have also gone out on community cable channels and radio stations.

The general service delegate says that to simulate the socialization of in-person gatherings, the Zoom meetings usually open 30 minutes early and people stay on long after the formal portion of the meeting is done.

“We miss hugging and handshakes. And, you know, Joe always brought cookies,” she said. “But we’re trying our best.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2020.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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