COVID-19 update: Mental health study shows Albertans feeling less empathetic; Setback for Shanghai’s COVID battle

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With COVID-19 news changing every day, we have created this file to keep you up-to-date on all the latest stories and information in and around Edmonton.

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Are you experiencing COVID-19 symptoms?

Before calling Health Link use the COVID-19 Assessment & Testing Tool to check symptoms.

Health Link continues to experience high daily call volumes and Alberta Health Services (AHS) is encouraging all Albertans to assess their symptoms or the symptoms of someone they are caring for using the online assessment and testing tool before calling Health Link.

AHS has updated the COVID-19 Assessment and Testing Tool to make it easier for Albertans to assess their symptoms, determine if they should talk to someone about their symptoms, such as their doctor or Health Link staff, access self-care tips to help manage mild COVID-19 symptoms at home and to determine whether or not they are eligible for PCR testing.

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The tool has up-to-date guidance for adults, children and youth and is available at ahs.ca/covidscreen.


What’s happening now

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Help us tell the COVID-19 story in Edmonton

As Alberta continues to navigate the unpredictable waves of COVID-19, we’re looking to hear your stories on this evolving situation.

  • If you are a healthcare worker, has the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions affected how safe you feel at work or in the community?
  • With restrictions lifted how do you feel about heading out in public without a mask?
  • Have you made plans to travel now that most restrictions have been lifted?
  • Are you experiencing symptoms of long-COVID? How is it affecting your life?
  • Are you a parent, how are you coping with fewer restrictions in schools? Do you feel safe allowing your child to go maskless in class?

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Tuesday

Two new subvariants of COVID appear to dodge natural immunity

Coronavirus mutation is continuously taking place as populations’ immunity grows.
Coronavirus mutation is continuously taking place as populations’ immunity grows. Photo by Getty Images

In the past week, cases of a new variant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 have tripled in South Africa, two cases have shown up in the United States, and others have appeared in Denmark, Scotland and England. While BA.4 is making its way to other countries, BA.5 has been slower to leave South Africa and Botswana.

The World Health Organization last month added the two subvariants to its monitoring list, but said it was tracking just a few dozen cases globally.

The two new sublineages can dodge antibodies from earlier infection well enough to trigger a new wave, but are far less able to thrive in the blood of people vaccinated against COVID-19, South African scientists found.

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“What we are seeing now, or at least maybe the first signs, is not completely new variants emerging, but current variants are starting to create lineages of themselves,” Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform (KRISP), told the New York Times. Omicron has produced several subvariants since it was identified in South Africa and neighbouring Botswana in November.

KRISP, part of a virus-research network across South Africa, was able to identify the Beta and Omicron variants because of the knowledge gained from the continent’s fight against HIV.

de Oliveira said BA.4 and BA.5 demonstrate how the virus is evolving as global immunity increases. It appears that in unvaccinated people, the new subvariants evade a person’s natural immunity produced from an infection with the original Omicron variant, BA.1. The two new variants have sprung from BA.1.

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Tuesday

Some in Shanghai get out for rare stroll; Beijing tightens COVID curbs

A resident walks on a street through the fence of a compound during a COVID-19 lockdown in the Jing’an district in Shanghai, China, Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL /AFP via Getty Images
A resident walks on a street through the fence of a compound during a COVID-19 lockdown in the Jing’an district in Shanghai, China, Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL /AFP via Getty Images

SHANGHAI/BEIJING — Some of Shanghai’s 25 million people managed to get out on Tuesday for short walks and shopping after enduring more than a month under a COVID-19 lockdown, while China’s capital, Beijing, focused on mass tests and said it would keep schools closed.

Beijing is desperate to prevent an outbreak now numbering in the dozens of new cases a day from spiraling into a crisis like the one in Shanghai.

Most people in the financial hub of Shanghai are still unable to leave their homes after more than a month of confinement. But a gradual easing of curbs in five of its 16 districts from Sunday, home to about a fifth of the city’s population, allowed some to get out briefly.

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Tuesday

Ontario reports 16 COVID deaths, rise in hospitalizations

Ontario is reporting 16 deaths linked to COVID-19 Tuesday after reporting zero on Monday.

The province says one of those deaths occurred earlier but was added to today’s tally as part of a data cleanup.

The Ministry of Health says there are 1,699 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, an increase from 1,423 reported the previous day.

There are 202 people in intensive care due to COVID-19, down from 211 the day before.

The province is reporting 1,547 new infections today, but access to PCR testing is limited to certain high-risk groups.

The scientific director of Ontario’s panel of COVID-19 advisers has said multiplying the daily case count by 20 would give a more accurate picture.

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Tuesday

Quebec reports 27 new deaths, 25-patient rise in hospitalizations

Montreal police officers on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette
Montreal police officers on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Quebec has recorded 1,194 new cases of COVID-19, the provincial government announced this morning.

The case tally only includes people who received PCR tests at government screening clinics. It does not accurately reflect the number of cases since it does not include the results of home rapid tests.

In addition, 27 new deaths were reported, bringing the cumulative total to 15,036.

Some other key statistics from Quebec’s latest COVID-19 update:

  • Montreal Island: 232 cases, 3 deaths.
  • Net increase in hospitalizations: 25, for total of 2,195 (141 entered hospital, 116 discharged).
  • Net decrease in intensive care patients: 2, for total of 76 (12 entered ICUs, 14 discharged).
  • 12,395 PCR tests conducted Sunday.
  • 12,968 vaccine doses administered over previous 24 hours.

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Tuesday

Two out of three Canadian small business owners ‘closer than ever’ to burnout

After two years of rolling lockdowns and business restrictions, nearly two-thirds of small and medium business owners in Canada say they are “closer than ever before to professional burnout,” an analysis conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business concludes.

Unsurprisingly, the analysis finds the mental health of owners whose businesses were hardest hit by the pandemic to be the most fragile. Owners who say they are closest to burnout are less likely to run a business that has fully resumed operations, recalled all of its employees or reached normal levels of revenue.

Mental health concerns have also increased for employees over the course of the pandemic, with 54 per cent of employers aware in 2022 that some of their employees are facing mental health issues, compared with 35 per cent in 2020.

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Tuesday

Mental health study shows Albertans feeling less empathetic towards others than at start of pandemic

Stephanie Babych

Office workers walk through Brookfield Place in downtown Calgary on Thursday, March 10, 2022.
Office workers walk through Brookfield Place in downtown Calgary on Thursday, March 10, 2022. Gavin Young/Postmedia

A mental health study conducted throughout the pandemic shows a concerning drop in empathy among Albertans since two years ago, after the first wave of COVID-19 infections.

The Canadian Mental Health Association and researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted a series of surveys during the pandemic to monitor Canadians’ mental health at various stages. Results of the most recent survey show 14 per cent of Albertans are feeling empathetic, compared to 29 per cent of Albertans surveyed in May 2020 — a decline of 15 per cent.

Alberta isn’t the only place in the country where this is documented. Overall, 13 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they feel empathetic now, while 23 per cent said they were feeling empathetic at the onset of the pandemic. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand another’s perspective and feelings.

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Tuesday

Setback for Shanghai’s COVID battle as Beijing ramps up mass testing

Reuters

Workers in protective suits ride an electric tricycle on a street during lockdown, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in Shanghai, China, Sunday, May 1, 2022.
Workers in protective suits ride an electric tricycle on a street during lockdown, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in Shanghai, China, Sunday, May 1, 2022. Photo by Aly Song /REUTERS

SHANGHAI/BEIJING — China’s commercial capital of Shanghai was dealt a blow on Monday as authorities reported 58 new COVID-19 cases outside areas under strict lockdown, while Beijing pressed on with testing millions of people on a May Day holiday few were celebrating.

Tough coronavirus curbs in Shanghai have stirred rare public anger, with millions of the city’s 25 million people stuck indoors for more than a month, some sealed inside fenced-off residential compounds and many struggling for daily necessities.

While Shanghai officials said the situation is improving, images on social media have unnerved the public at a time when hospitals and mortuaries in the city are overwhelmed.

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Monday

Vice President Harris tests negative for Covid-19, will return to in-person work Tuesday

Reuters

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) applaud as U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) applaud as U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC. Photo by Saul Loeb – Pool/Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris has tested negative for Covid-19 on a rapid antigen test, her spokesperson Kirsten Allen said in a statement on Monday.

Harris will return to in-person work on Tuesday and will continue to wear a mask through the 10-day period under Centers for Disease Control guidelines, according to Allen. The White House announced Harris’ positive result on last Tuesday.

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Monday

New Zealand further eases COVID measures, opens borders to 60 more countries

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at the unveiling ceremony of a Kuwaha sculpture at Gardens by the Bay’s Cloud Forest in Singapore, April 19, 2022.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at the unveiling ceremony of a Kuwaha sculpture at Gardens by the Bay’s Cloud Forest in Singapore, April 19, 2022. Photo by Caroline Chia /REUTERS

Reuters

WELLINGTON — New Zealand welcomed thousands of travellers from around the globe on Monday as the country opened its borders to visitors from around 60 nations including Canada, the United States, Britain and Singapore for the first time since COVID-19 hit in early 2020.

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Maori cultural performers sang songs at the arrivals gate in Auckland and travellers were handed popular locally made chocolate bars as the first flights came in from Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Friends and family hugged and cried as people were reunited for what was for some the first time in more than two years.

Garth Halliday, who was waiting at the airport for his son, daughter-in-law and grandson to land from London, told local media it made him happy and emotional to see so many families reunited.

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Monday

Ontario is reporting no new COVID-19 deaths for first time in nearly a month

The Canadian Press

COVID-19 vaccine
A nurse prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Montreal, Quebec on November 24, 2021. Photo by ANDREJ IVANOV/AFP via Getty Images

TORONTO — Ontario is reporting no new deaths linked to COVID-19 today for the first time since April 4 after reporting 17 new deaths on Sunday.

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The province reports there are 1,423 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, up 13 from the previous day, but notes that more than 10 per cent of facilities don’t share data from the weekends.

There are 211 people in intensive care due to COVID-19, an increase of 24 from the day before.

The province reports 1,275 new infections today, but access to PCR testing is limited to certain higher-risk groups.

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Monday

The end game for ‘endemicity’: Are we there yet with COVID?

Sharon Kirkey, National Post

A pedestrian wearing a mask walks past a mural of a family enjoying a leisurely massless walk in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, February 3, 2022.
A pedestrian wearing a mask walks past a mural of a family enjoying a leisurely massless walk in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, February 3, 2022.

People all over social media are posting photos of their positive rapid tests, Saskatchewan’s sixth wave is seeing record hospitalizations of COVID-positive people and Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is warning of a “difficult week” ahead.

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However, there are signs the latest wave may be peaking in parts of Canada, though the impact of the recent long holiday weekend is still a wild card, federal health officials said Friday.

Where is the country at with COVID? “In a way we’re kind of in this weird place. And where we are is really building community immunity,” said Dr. Doug Manuel, a physician and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table.

Omicron’s arrival has led to a massive shift in the nature of population immunity in Canada, said Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Taskforce.

“As maddening as all the public health measures were at times in 2020 and 2021, they helped limit spread of disease and kept Canadian infection rates low relative to what happened in many other countries in the earlier waves of the epidemic,” Naylor said in an email.

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“We entered late 2021 with a situation where the vast majority of Canadians had vaccine-induced immunity, and only a very small proportion who had been infected,” he said. “Now the numbers of people with hybrid immunity — a past infection, along with two or three shots — has skyrocketed.”

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Monday

Mixing with unvaccinated increases COVID-19 risk for vaccinated people, study finds

The Canadian Press

Office workers make their way through a city centre pedway in downtown Edmonton, on Tuesday March 1, 2022. An Edmonton Downtown Business Association survey indicates that about 70% of workers are expected to return to work downtown by summer. Photo by David Bloom
Office workers make their way through a city centre pedway in downtown Edmonton, on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. An Edmonton Downtown Business Association survey indicates that about 70% of workers are expected to return to work downtown by summer. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

MONTREAL — While remaining unvaccinated against COVID-19 is often framed as a personal choice, those who spurn the vaccines raise the risk of infection for those around them, a new study suggests.

The research published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that vaccinated people who mix with those who are not vaccinated have a significantly greater chance of being infected than those who stick with people who have received the shot.

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In contrast, unvaccinated people’s risk of contracting COVID-19 drops when they spend time with people who are vaccinated, because they serve as a buffer to transmission, according to the mathematical model used in the study.

Co-author David Fisman, of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana school of public health, said the message of the study is that the choice to get vaccinated can’t be thought of as merely personal.

“You may like to drive your car 200 kilometres an hour and think that’s fun, but we don’t allow you to do that on a highway partly because you can kill and injure yourself, but also because you’re creating risk for those around you,” he said in a recent interview.

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Monday

‘Natural immunity’ provides strong protection from COVID reinfection, but vaccination still safer

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Sharon Kirkey, National Post

Staff prepare vaccine at the pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Village Square Leisure Centre in northeast Calgary on Sunday, June 6, 2021.
Staff prepare vaccine at the pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Village Square Leisure Centre in northeast Calgary on Sunday, June 6, 2021. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

New research shows that a COVID-19 infection can grant the unvaccinated strong and durable protection from reinfection, or mild or severe COVID — protection that even stacks up to that reported for mRNA vaccines.

The major caveat: The study ended before Omicron took off, “and we can’t necessarily extrapolate our findings to the situation today,” said co-author Dr. Jessica Ridgway, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Chicago.

But her team’s study, and others like it, is offering insights into an enduring debate over the risk of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection among the unvaccinated, a debate as politicized as COVID itself.

Among those opposed to vaccination, a popular trope is that it’s more “natural” to gain immunity from infection, which is one reason why Ridgway is careful that her work is not misinterpreted to imply that people shouldn’t get vaccinated against COVID.

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Some have argued that immunity is immunity — that immunity from natural infection contributes to population-wide immunity the same way vaccine-induced immunity does. Others say it’s impossible to predict, especially with emerging variants, who will actually be protected or not. How much immunity do they have, how can you measure it and is it enough? “Vaccination, although imperfect, provides a much more standard level of protection” without risking serious disease, said McMaster University immunologist Dawn Bowdish.

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Saturday

‘Our staff is tired’: Alberta’s chief paramedic on how EMS is coping with spike in calls

Madeline Smith, Edmonton Journal

Alberta Health Services EMS ambulances are seen near the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
Alberta Health Services EMS ambulances are seen near the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

Health-care workers have been under extreme strain combating COVID-19, and paramedics are no exception.

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Emergency Medical Services (EMS) crews in Alberta have been on the front lines of the pandemic, and now they’re also under the pressure of stubbornly high call volumes, prompting Alberta Health Services to develop a new plan to help them cope with the stress.

Postmedia spoke with Alberta’s chief paramedic, Darren Sandbeck, about what ambulance crews are facing now, and how health authorities are responding.

How has EMS call volumes changed over the pandemic?

Pre-pandemic, our call volumes were increasing in the projected range of five to six per cent a year. What we saw that we really can’t explain — and it’s actually an international phenomenon — is in about February of 2021, our call volumes really began to spike and we saw up to 30 per cent increases in call volumes.

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We saw this across the province, in all communities, and across all of our call types. We couldn’t tie it back to any one type of call that was increasing, it was a systemic 30 per cent increase to our call volume.

Are there theories about what’s happening?

We think that some of it was probably tied to the health system reopening and coming back online. We think that part of it was probably tied to people becoming more mobile again when we sort of emerged between waves.

Some of it we can relate to the opioid crisis to some degree, but it’s really a puzzle. When we talk to colleagues, EMS systems around the world are actually saying exactly the same thing.

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Letter of the day

Malcolm Mayes editorial cartoon
Jason Kenney wonders if he’s been too tolerant of open dissent in UCP. Malcolm Mayes

Many benefits to improving LRT experience

Edmonton’s city council wants to reduce our carbon footprint. Council also wants to increase transit ridership. And council is looking for a way to stretch our budget dollars.I live within walking distance of the LRT. It is a very convenient and low-cost way for me to get to many of the places I need to go, but I ride it less and less these days; I drive my SUV instead. Yes, I feel guilty about this. The last two times I’ve ridden the LRT I’ve experienced threatening behaviour, seen open drug use in front of transit officers, and the LRT was a filthy, unmaintained environment.I am not satisfied with my LRT experience. I feel vulnerable using city transit, and will not use it until I’m safe to do so. What can city council do about this? How about hiring more officers to enforce payment and make our transit system safe? Don’t have enough in the budget? How about the additional $15 million to clear little-used bike lanes in the winter? Could this be applied to transit security?
A safe transit environment would increase ridership, which would increase revenues, and reduce our carbon footprint. Three benefits resulting from one action! Oh yeah — and a fourth benefit — you may get re-elected.P.K. Bright, Edmonton

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