The Ontario government says asymptomatic hospital workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 need not isolate if they test negative for the virus daily. The province has made the recommendation in an effort to safeguard hospital staffing levels as cases surge due to the highly contagious Omicron variant. The government says any hospital worker who develops COVID-19 symptoms should isolate at home until they get a negative PCR test result and their symptoms are improving.
Lab Workers Stretched Too Thin:
The head of an association representing Ontario laboratory workers says its members are working, quote, “beyond humanly possible.” Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario CEO Michelle Hoad says 70 per cent of labs in the province were already short-staffed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. She says many lab workers left during the pandemic due to the stress involved. Hoad says the recent surge in tests as the Omicron variant drives a spike in cases has laboratory professionals working more overtime and reporting burnout.
Procurement On The Defence Again:
Federal ministers are defending Canada’s response to the Omicron variant as COVID-19 assessment centres struggle to meet rising demand. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says she doesn’t want to minimize how difficult the situation is, but says Canada has come a long way since the beginning of the pandemic. Prime Minister Trudeau says the government tried to stock up on tests and COVID-19 vaccine boosters while adding restrictions at the border when Omicron first emerged in southern Africa. Trudeau says questions about capacity to administer tests and boosters should be directed to the provinces, because Canada’s supply of those materials is in good shape.
Contact Tracing Is Falling Behind Quickly:
Some public health units are struggling to keep up with contact tracing due to the surge in COVID-19 cases and high demand for tests. Public health units for Middlesex-London and Hastings Prince Edward both say they were falling behind in notifying people that they had tested positive for COVID-19. The Middlesex-London Health Unit says anyone who develops respiratory symptoms should consider they have COVID-19, isolate themselves and tell their close contacts to do the same. It says there were 300 people in the region who had tested positive for the virus but had yet to be contacted by public health officials. Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, meanwhile, says it had shifted its efforts to administering booster shots instead of contact tracing due to limited available resources.
Quebec Imposes New Restrictions:
Premier Francois Legault has announced some tough new restrictions for Quebecers in the province’s stepped-up fight against COVID-19. He says beginning Boxing Day, gatherings inside homes will be limited to six people or two-family bubbles. Restaurants will also have to limit groups at tables to six people or two families. Earlier this week, the province abruptly closed bars, gyms and schools. Legault says Quebec has seen an exponential increase in COVID cases this past week. Health officials reported over 6,300 new daily cases yesterday, and expect to break that record again with another 9,000 cases today.
FDA Authorizes The Pfizer COVID Drug:
Yesterday, the FDA authorized use of a new antiviral pill that can be taken at home to help prevent people sick with COVID-19 from becoming severely ill. Paxlovid, made by Pfizer, reduced the risk of severe disease by nearly 90% in clinical trials and appeared to be safe. Taken as a pill soon after COVID-19 symptoms start, it’s intended for people at high risk for severe disease, including those over 65, people with obesity or diabetes and anyone with a weakened immune system, as well as high-risk children ages 12 and up.
FDA issued an EUA for Paxlovid for the treatment of mild-to-moderate #COVID19 in adults & pediatric patients (age 12 & older weighing at least 40 kg) w/ positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 testing, and at high risk for progression to severe #COVID19. https://t.co/HVmpdFDJ7r pic.twitter.com/JjqHaKjORY
— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA) December 22, 2021
Studying The Severity of Omicron:
Two new British studies are providing some early hints that the Omicron variant may be milder than COVID’s delta variant. Scientists stress that even if the findings of these early studies hold up, any reductions in severity need to be weighed against the fact Omicron spreads much faster than delta and is more able to evade vaccines. Still, the sheer number of infections could overwhelm hospitals.
US Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Vaccine Mandates:
The US Supreme Court says it will hold a special session in just over two weeks to hear arguments on the Biden administration’s vaccine or testing requirement for large employers and a separate vaccine requirement for health care workers amid rising coronavirus cases. The high court announced late Wednesday that it would hear arguments in the cases on January 7th. The court had not been scheduled to hear cases again until January 10th.
In an unexpected move, SCOTUS on Wednesday night scheduled oral arguments for Jan. 7 in a pair of shadow-docket requests involving two Biden vaccine policies: the vax-or-test mandate for large employers, and the vaccine mandate for health care facilities. https://t.co/fqjlHpGkXo
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) December 23, 2021
New Federal Support Program Announced:
The federal government has offered a lifeline to businesses struggling amid the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding eligibility for two benefit programs. Prime Minister Trudeau has announced that the government will change eligibility requirements for its Local Lockdown Program and Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit. Until now, the programs required recipients to be in regions where businesses were ordered shut and workers were instructed to stay home. Yesterday’s announcement loosens that requirement to include companies in areas where restrictions that fall short of a full lockdown have been issued. The federal program offers $300-dollar-per-week to impacted workers.
And with today’s expanded support, Canadians can follow new provincial health restrictions knowing that the federal government is there to support everyone. https://t.co/GlNzHQYM6b
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) December 22, 2021
Province Introduces New Supports But They Won’t Come For Another Month:
Ontario is introducing new rebates for businesses affected by COVID-19 public health measures. It will provide rebates covering up to 50 per cent of property taxes and energy costs for some businesses. The Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program will start accepting applications in mid-January. But the rebates will be retroactive to December 19th, when the latest round of restrictions came into effect. Several struggling business owners say the support won’t arrive in time to help.
Ontario is introducing a new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program and a 6-month interest and penalty free period for most provincial taxes to support businesses that are required to operate at 50% reduced capacity.
— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) December 22, 2021
Liberal MP Punished For Traveling:
Liberal MP Yves Robillard has been censured by his party’s chief whip for defying advice not to travel out of the country unless for essential reasons. Steven MacKinnon says he is profoundly disappointed with Robillard. Liberal MPs were told to avoid non-essential international travel as the COVID-19 Omicron variant increases its grip. MacKinnon says Robillard will be removed from his duties as a member of the standing committee on national defence as a result.
US ARMY Has Developed A New Vaccine That Protects From All COVID Variants:
After nearly two years, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research think they have developed a vaccine that is effective against all COVID and SARS variants. Researchers at Walter Reed expect to officially announce the completion of the vaccine in the coming weeks, Defense One first reported. The Army began working on the Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine (SpFN) in early 2020.
Omicron On Planes:
Airline passengers are up to three times more likely to catch Covid since the emergence of the Omicron variant, a top medical adviser warned. David Powell, physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, said the variant increased the risk of catching the virus “just as we have seen in other environments.” He also warned those in economy class were more likely to catch Covid on a plane compared to those in business class, because the seats are more closely packed together.
COVID Cancels The Nutcracker In Toronto:
Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 at the National Ballet of Canada have prompted the cancellation of all remaining performances of The Nutcracker. Performances in Toronto had been scheduled to run through to New Year’s Eve. Executive Director Barry Hughson says ticketholders have been contacted and have been offered several options, including a full refund. The company has said all of the performers and crew working on The Nutcracker were fully vaccinated.
Manitoba Delays The Return To School:
Manitoba is delaying the return to school after the holidays by two school days to assess the risk of COVID-19 and the highly contagious Omicron variant. Most classes ended yesterday, and students are now scheduled to return on Monday, January 10th. Education Minister Cliff Cullen says going back to remote learning province-wide could be an option, but they are taking the next few weeks to examine the circumstances.
UBC Going Online Learning Only Until At Least January 24:
The University of British Columbia is moving its classes temporarily online at both its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses in the new year because of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. In a statement, university president Santa Ono says campuses will remain open but instruction after the holiday break will be provided online until at least Jan. 24. Ono says the school intends to allow in-person learning after that date, but university officials will monitor the situation and provide an update in the first week of the new year. He says the decision allows time for faculty and staff to prepare course materials and other services. The statement says some courses, including those with clinical or performance and studio components, will continue in-person with appropriate safety protocols in place. The fast-spreading Omicron variant led provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to announce new restrictions in B.C. on Tuesday, closing bars, gyms and dance studios.
New COVID-19 infections jumped by more than 25 per cent in a day, with the province reporting 4,383 yesterday. There were nine new deaths. Health Minister Christine Elliott says 420 COVID-19 patients are in hospital, and 168 are in intensive care. She says 90.5 per cent of Ontarians 12 and older have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 88 per cent have two.
In Ontario, 25,860,049 vaccine doses have been administered, with over 230,000 doses administered yesterday.
Thank you, Team Ontario, for quickly getting shots into arms as we continue to ramp up capacity.
90.5% of Ontarians 12+ have received one dose & 87.9% have two doses.
— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) December 22, 2021
Waterloo Region / Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Numbers:
Waterloo Region Public Health confirmed 130 new cases yesterday and no new deaths. Hospitalizations are still stable at 20 patients. There are 947 active cases. Yesterday Dr. Wang confirmed hospitalizations have started to increase locally, but ICU admissions are stable.
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health announced 82 new cases yesterday. Hospitalizations are up to 10. Only 2 are in the ICU. There are 560 active cases.
New COVID-19 vaccine booster appointments have been added in December, January and February. Book online at https://t.co/6h4loerFEE or call 1-844-780-0202 (weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). pic.twitter.com/tLDkSxvRMY
— WDG Public Health (@WDGPublicHealth) December 22, 2021
Contains files from The Canadian Press
Photo Credit: Stock image – Free use – Photographer unidentified