Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court justice and women’s rights champion, dead at 87

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court justice and women’s rights champion, dead at 87

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a diminutive yet towering women’s rights champion who became the court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington, the court says. She was 87.

Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, the court said.

Her death just over six weeks before election day in the United States is likely to set off a heated battle over whether President Donald Trump should nominate, and the Republican-led Senate should confirm, her replacement, or if the seat should remain vacant until the outcome of his race against Democrat Joe Biden is known. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Friday that the Senate will vote on Trump’s pick to replace Ginsburg, even though it’s an election year.

Chief Justice John Roberts mourned Ginsburg’s passing. “Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice,” Roberts said in a statement.

Ginsburg announced in July that she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lesions on her liver, the latest of several battles with cancer.

WATCH | Ruth Bader Ginsburg dead at 87:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, the court said in a statement. The iconic jurist was renowned for defending rights of women and minorities while serving on the top court for 27 years. 3:04

Ginsburg spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court’s liberal wing and became something of a rock star to her admirers.

Young women especially seemed to embrace the court’s Jewish grandmother, affectionately calling her the Notorious RBG, for her defence of the rights of women and minorities and the strength and resilience she displayed in the face of personal loss and health crises.

Those health issues included five bouts with cancer beginning in 1999, falls that resulted in broken ribs, insertion of a stent to clear a blocked artery and assorted other hospitalizations after she turned 75.

She resisted calls by liberals to retire during Barack Obama’s presidency at a time when Democrats held the Senate and a replacement with similar views could have been confirmed. Instead, Trump will almost certainly try to push her successor through the Senate — and move the conservative court even more to the right.

Ginsburg antagonized Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign in a series of media interviews, including calling him a faker. She soon apologized.

A bouquet of flowers is left in front of the U.S. Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Washington on Friday. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Her appointment by President Bill Clinton in 1993 was the first by a Democrat in 26 years. She initially found a comfortable ideological home somewhere left of centre on a conservative court dominated by Republican appointees. Her liberal voice grew stronger the longer she served.

Ginsburg was a mother of two, an opera lover and an intellectual who watched arguments behind oversized glasses for many years, though she ditched them for more fashionable frames in her later years. At argument sessions in the ornate courtroom, she was known for digging deep into case records and for being a stickler for following the rules.

Ginsburg, second from left, takes the court oath from Chief Justice William Rehnquist, right, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington in August 1993. (Marcy Nighswander/The Associated Press)

She argued six key cases before the court in the 1970s when she was an architect of the women’s rights movement. She won five.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg does not need a seat on the Supreme Court to earn her place in the American history books,” Clinton said at the time of her appointment.

“She has already done that.”

Liberal stalwart

On the court, where she was known as a facile writer, her most significant majority opinions were the 1996 ruling that ordered the Virginia Military Institute to accept women or give up its state funding, and the 2015 decision that upheld independent commissions some states use to draw congressional districts.

Besides civil rights, Ginsburg took an interest in capital punishment, voting repeatedly to limit its use. During her tenure, the court declared it unconstitutional for states to execute the intellectually disabled and killers younger than 18.

In addition, she questioned the quality of lawyers for poor accused murderers. In the most divisive of cases, including the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000, she was often at odds with the court’s more conservative members — initially Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, left, Clarence Thomas, centre, and Ginsburg arrive for services for former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist in September 2005 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The division remained the same after John Roberts replaced Rehnquist as chief justice, Samuel Alito took O’Connor’s seat, and, under Trump, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined the court, in seats that had been held by Scalia and Kennedy, respectively.

Ginsburg would say later that the 5-4 decision that settled the 2000 presidential election for Republican George W. Bush was a “breathtaking episode” at the court.

She was perhaps personally closest on the court to Scalia, her ideological opposite. Ginsburg once explained that she took Scalia’s sometimes biting dissents as a challenge to be met. “How am I going to answer this in a way that’s a real putdown?” she said. Scalia died in 2016.

Ginsburg is greeted as she arrives prior to U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Reuters)

When Scalia died in 2016, also an election year, McConnell refused to act on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the opening. The seat remained vacant until after Trump’s surprising presidential victory. McConnell has said he would move to confirm a Trump nominee if there were a vacancy this year.

Reached by phone late Friday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — the chair of the judiciary committee — declined to disclose any plans. He called Ginsburg a “trailblazer.”

“While I had many differences with her on legal philosophy, I appreciate her service to our nation,” he said.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer tweeted: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Ginsburg authored powerful dissents of her own in cases involving abortion, voting rights and pay discrimination against women. She said some were aimed at swaying the opinions of her fellow judges while others were “an appeal to the intelligence of another day” in the hopes that they would provide guidance to future courts.

“Hope springs eternal,” she said in 2007, “and when I am writing a dissent, I’m always hoping for that fifth or sixth vote — even though I’m disappointed more often than not.”

She wrote memorably in 2013 that the court’s decision to cut out a key part of the federal law that had ensured the voting rights of Black people, Hispanics and other minorities was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Change on the court hit Ginsburg especially hard. She dissented forcefully from the court’s decision in 2007 to uphold a nationwide ban on an abortion procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion. The court, with O’Connor still on it, had struck down a similar state ban seven years earlier. The “alarming” ruling, Ginsburg said, “cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court — and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”

Health problems

In 1999, Ginsburg had surgery for colon cancer and received radiation and chemotherapy. She had surgery again in 2009 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and in December 2018 for cancerous growths on her left lung. Following the last surgery, she missed court sessions for the first time in more than 25 years on the bench.

Ginsburg also was treated with radiation for a tumour on her pancreas in August 2019. She maintained an active schedule even during the three weeks of radiation. When she revealed a recurrence of her cancer in July 2020, Ginsburg said she remained “fully able” to continue as a justice.

Joan Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, the second daughter in a middle-class family. Her older sister, who gave her the lifelong nickname “Kiki,” died at age six, so Ginsburg grew up in Brooklyn’s Flatbush section as an only child. Her dream, she has said, was to be an opera singer.

Ginsburg is seen in Long Beach, Calif., in October 2010. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Ginsburg graduated at the top of her Columbia University law school class in 1959 but could not find a law firm willing to hire her. She had “three strikes against her” — for being Jewish, female and a mother, as she put it in 2007.

She had married her husband, Martin, in 1954, the year she graduated from Cornell University. She attended Harvard University’s law school but transferred to Columbia when her husband took a law job there. Martin Ginsburg went on to become a prominent tax attorney and law professor. He died in 2010. She is survived by two children, Jane and James, and several grandchildren.

Ginsburg once said that she had not entered the law as an equal-rights champion. “I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other,” she wrote. “I have no talent in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyze problems clearly.”

Public Health Agency of Canada president resigns as COVID-19 cases spike

Public Health Agency of Canada president resigns as COVID-19 cases spike

The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is stepping down only 18 months into the job, leaving the federal agency tasked with coordinating the country’s COVID-19 response without a seasoned leader.

Tina Namiesniowski said she would be stepping aside immediately to make way for a new president.

A spokesperson for Health Canada said the government expects to have a replacement for Namiesniowski by next week.

In a letter to staff, Namiesniowski, a long-serving bureaucrat, said she needs to “take a break” and “step aside so someone else can step up” to lead the agency as caseloads spike and testing times creep up in some parts of the country.

“You really need someone who will have the energy and the stamina to take the agency and our response to the next level,” she said in internal correspondence announcing her departure. CBC News has seen a copy of her letter to staff.

“While responding to this crisis, we’ve done many things since then to add capacity, improve processes, take on new roles and really build up the competence that had diminished in recent years. All of this work has taken a personal toll on so many people … I put myself in that category.”

Before her appointment to the top job at PHAC in May 2019, Namiesniowski held a number of senior postings within government. She served as the executive vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency and was an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture Canada and Public Safety Canada.

PHAC has come in for criticism in recent months as Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been questioned by some critics. The pandemic has killed roughly 9,200 people in this country.

The federal government’s initial reluctance to close the border as the virus spread in Asia, its depleted national emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early months of this pandemic, confusing guidance on the wearing of masks and other perceived failures have been cited by opposition parties in Parliament and others as examples of Canada’s uneven response to COVID-19.

“We have all been working non-stop in a high pressure environment subjected to significant scrutiny and without a doubt, we’ve risen to the challenge,” Namiesniowski said.

On Namiesniowski’s watch, some scientists working for the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) complained that their early warnings about the threat of COVID-19 were ignored or inadequately addressed by senior staff at PHAC.

The network, a federal government-run monitoring and analysis unit, alerts senior officials to health risks around the globe by compiling media reports and other intelligence about outbreaks.

CBC News reported in April on concerns about the network’s alerts not being as widely disseminated as they had been during past health crises.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has ordered a review of the network amid the complaints.

COVID-19 medical coverage now available even though Canadians advised to avoid international travel

COVID-19 medical coverage now available even though Canadians advised to avoid international travel

Canadians yearning to travel abroad — despite the COVID-19 pandemic — can now get medical insurance to cover costs if they get sick with the coronavirus while travelling. 

In March, when the virus began its global spread and Canada advised against non-essential travel abroad, travel insurance providers stopped selling COVID-19 medical coverage.

Now, several insurance providers have resumed offering the coverage along with their regular travel insurance plans. 

Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and travel agency Flight Centre have also joined in, offering free COVID-19 medical coverage to passengers booking certain international flights and vacation packages. 

Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said he’s surprised by the spate of offers — considering Canada’s advisory against international travel remains intact due to the ongoing pandemic. 

“Your country is now currently under a Level 3 travel advisory, and you’ve got airlines enticing people with free medical coverage,” said Firestone with Travel Secure in Toronto.

“Whether you have coverage or not, you may be in a very precarious position with [available] hospital beds and treatment and the ability to be flown back to Canada.”

Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said he’s surprised by all the COVID-19 coverage offers for travellers, considering Canada is advising Canadians not to travel abroad. (CBC)

Many companies providing COVID-19 coverage told CBC News they’re responding to consumer demand.

“People are looking to travel,” said Richard Job, Flight Centre’s vice-president of commercial partnership. “They are able to travel if they want to, and we just want to enable that to take place as safely as we can.”

International travellers returning to Canada must self-isolate for 14 days

WATCH | The future of air travel: 

Technology could play a big role as airports and airlines develop new ways to help passengers feel safer. 3:43

Who’s offering coverage?

At least three insurance providers, Medipac, Tour+Med and Blue Cross (in Ontario and Quebec) now offer COVID-19 medical coverage as part of their regular travel insurance plans — or as a top-up. 

Manulife announced this week it will start offering the coverage in October. 

The plans vary. For example, not all providers cover daily expenses if an infected traveller is forced to quarantine abroad.

Each company said it offers medical coverage for all ailments, including COVID-19, for up to $5 million — with the exception of Manulife, which has capped COVID-19 coverage at $200,000.

Manulife declined to comment on the cap. 

Air Canada is offering free COVID-19 medical coverage for select vacation packages and international flights. (Sophia Harris/CBC)

Airline industry offering free coverage

Flight Centre and the airlines are providing free coverage only for COVID-19 illnesses and related expenses, such as accommodation costs while being quarantined. The offers are available for a limited time — ranging from the next seven months to a year. 

Customers booking vacation packages with Flight Centre, Air Canada Vacations and WestJet to select destinations — which exclude the United States — are covered for up to $100,000 in medical bills. WestJet provides the same coverage for international flights, excluding the U.S. 

Sunwing will cover up to $200,000 in COVID-19 medical expenses for passengers booking any of its vacation packages and flights departing on or after Oct. 16. Air Canada (which is separate from Air Canada Vacations) currently provides the same $200,000 coverage for customers purchasing international fights, including to the U.S. 

Although the Canada-U.S. land border is closed to non-essential traffic, Canadians can still fly to the U.S

Firestone questions if $200,000 would be enough to cover a severe case of COVID-19 in the U.S., where medical costs can run high. 

“What if the bill is $500,000?” he said. “Then it becomes your problem.”

Manulife, which is partnering with Air Canada to provide the coverage, declined to comment. 

Air Canada said that passengers wanting extra protection can consider purchasing an extensive travel insurance plan.

What about snowbirds?

Medipac’s main customers are snowbirds heading to the southern U.S. where the COVID-19 infection rate remains high. But the insurance provider said it’s confident it won’t be bombarded with COVID-19 claims, because Medipac’s clientele will likely play it safe. 

“The people that we’re tailoring our product to are going to do what they’ve always done, travel down as a couple, go to their winter residence,” said Medipac spokesperson Christopher Davidge.

“We’re not talking about cramming into a discount airline … and staying at a resort hotel and going to a theme park.”

Snowbird Perry Cohen said he and his wife, Rose, plan to take all necessary precautions when they likely head to their condo this winter in Deerfield Beach, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale. 

“Our community is pretty safe,” said Cohen, who lives in Toronto. “We’re not going to look for large crowds. We’re not running to the bars and the restaurants.”

Even so, Cohen said COVID-19 coverage is a game changer because he and his wife would never consider heading south if they couldn’t purchase it. 

“Why take the risk?” he said. “I like a complete package to know I’m looked after.”

Perry Cohen said he and his wife, Rose, plan to take all necessary precautions when they likely head to their condo this winter in Deerfield Beach, Fla. (Submitted by Perry Cohen)

Cases ‘going up again’ 

But not all eager travellers will be swayed by COVID-19 coverage. 

Avid international traveller Suzanne Chojnacki said she and her husband will stay put for now because they still have many concerns — such as getting stuck abroad if the country they’re visiting suddenly closes its borders.

“The [COVID-19 case] numbers are going up again,” said Chojnacki who lives in Richmond Hill, Ont. “So it’s really not a good time to think about going away — for us.”

Current plans offering travellers COVID-19 coverage don’t include compensation if a customer cancels a trip due to the pandemic. Firestone said that’s because cancellation insurance typically covers unexpected mishaps, not a “known” issue such as the coronavirus.

“It’s just so known, it’s not even funny.”

Sorry to burst your COVID-19 ‘social bubble’ but even small gatherings are getting riskier

Sorry to burst your COVID-19 ‘social bubble’ but even small gatherings are getting riskier

For months, Canadians have been bubbling up with other friends and family to socialize safely during the pandemic.

But with COVID-19 case counts rising in many communities, kids back in schools and more people returning to work, many public health experts agree that what worked as a safe approach in the early days of the lockdown now comes with more risk.

“I honestly think with the return to school right now, most people’s bubbles have burst,” says epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite. “You’re talking about large numbers of connections.”

In Ontario, “social circles” allow you to see up to 10 people without the usual pandemic precautions in place as long as all of those family members, friends or neighbours make a pact to socialize only with each other, while in Alberta, the cap for your “cohort” is your household plus up to 15 other people.

In B.C., the guidelines for a “bubble” are a little looser. Officials say the members of your immediate household can be “carefully expanded” to include outsiders, with the goal of limiting the number as much as possible — since these are people you’re allowed to kiss, hug, chat with and dine with, without masks or distancing.

It’s a concept being adopted in several countries around the world. And while it works well in principle, experts warn it may be harder to maintain at this point in the pandemic.

Bubble makes sense in ‘theory’

“As a theory, the bubble makes a lot of sense,” said Dr. Dominik Mertz, an associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at Hamilton’s McMaster University. “But there’s a lot of confusion from people over what it is.”

He also added it can be tough to do safely, particularly if the bubble involves multiple households “who all have different risks.”

Say you have two four-person households socializing without the usual pandemic precautions. On paper, it follows the Ontario and B.C. guidelines.

But what if one person is back at work, leaving them exposed to dozens of colleagues? Or either family’s children are in school, where physical distancing and mask wearing might be a challenge?

A small sphere of contacts can quickly expand to include everyone that each family member comes in contact with, which means the bubbling approach really isn’t “useful” anymore, according to Tuite, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

‘It’s not going to work for all people’

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, agreed it’s not a “perfect model” at this point in the pandemic.

“It would’ve worked better back when things were fully locked down,” he said, adding there’s still merit in bubbling with a few close friends or family if everyone is cautious.

“I don’t want to remove any tools from the table,” he said. “If bubbling is working for some people, keep on doing it. But it’s not going to work for all people.”

For instance, a supply teacher, with a social network of students and staff in various classrooms or even buildings, can’t realistically have a social bubble without any precautions, Deonandan said, while someone working from home might be able to do it more safely.

WATCH | ‘Exponential’ growth in new cases in parts of Canada, says infectious disease specialist:

Parts of Canada are seeing ‘exponential’ growth in COVID-19 cases, and we could be headed toward a thousand new cases per day, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam. 0:58

Fo many people, losing their bubble could mean a long, lonely winter, made worse by mental health struggles or living alone.

“We know there are benefits to having that human contact,” said Dr. Nitin Mohan, a physician epidemiologist and assistant professor at Western University in London, Ont. 

But when dropping temperatures push people indoors, where transmission risk is higher, and families start making plans to gather over the upcoming stretch of holidays, it could make adhering to the bubble principles even tougher. 

Bubble burst? Isolate for a while 

Mertz says Canadians should already be planning for upcoming gatherings like Thanksgiving.

If outside-the-bubble family members want to celebrate together, find ways to do it safely, he says, by meeting outdoors and staying apart as much as possible. Otherwise, you’re blending several household bubbles together and upping the risk for everyone.

And if you do throw caution to the wind for a turkey feast, there’s another approach: Isolate yourself as much as possible for two weeks after the gathering. 

“That would give us downtime, so in case someone got infected, you are not spreading it from that gathering into each individual bubble,” Mertz said.

The various experts who spoke with CBC News acknowledged the challenges in sticking to even the safest bubbling plan, with peer pressure, slip-ups, and our innate desire for human connection all potential obstacles.

For that reason, Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist with the Sinai Health System and University Health Network in Toronto, stresses the onus shouldn’t just be on individuals to reduce transmission.

From a system-wide perspective, he says, provincial governments need to ensure every piece of the pandemic plan is adequately resourced: testing capacity, contact tracing, personal protective equipment and hospital staff.

“If you can’t test people who are symptomatic, then you can’t contact trace … and you can’t identify people who are about to become symptomatic and are unknowingly and unwittingly spreading the disease,” he said.

Ontario gathering sizes reduced

Ontario officials say they’re working to increase testing capacity amid hours-long lineups in multiple cities, including Ottawa and Toronto.

The province is also lowering the maximum size limit for private gatherings — things like backyard barbecues or dinner parties, with precautions in place among people in different social circles — in some regions.

The new limits will be 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, with hefty fines of $10,000 or more for organizers who flout the rules.

Deonandan calls that the “single best policy intervention” for controlling the spread of COVID-19, given the growing body of research showing large gatherings can be hot spots for virus transmission.

“Mask wearing, that’s important. Distancing, that’s important, too,” he said. “But time and time again we see explosions of cases in otherwise controlled areas … driven by these super-spreading events.”

Even smaller gatherings can fuel the virus’s spread, like infections after a family outing documented in Toronto, and a 10-person cottage trip — which would still meet the province’s new rules — that led to 40 new cases in Ottawa.

It’s not clear if anyone involved in those gatherings was bubbling together, and Mertz stresses in all situations, the same safety precautions apply.

“Whether you continue with the bubble concept or not, it comes down to the less people gathering, the more time you can spend outside, the more you can spread out — the lower the risk.”

Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday

Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday

The latest:

  • Quebec urges residents to continue to follow public safety measures this coming weekend.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford implements new measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • Officials shut down high school in Ottawa Valley, first in the province to close.
  • Ontario health experts struggling to trace the source of new COVID-19 infections.
  • Trudeau says dealing with COVID-19 remains his government’s number one job.
  • India has confirmed another record jump in coronavirus cases.
  • United States sees economic damage from coronavirus outbreak as 860,000 people apply for employment benefits.
  • 10 fans told to quarantine after Kansas City Chiefs game

With climbing cases of COVID-19 across Canada, health experts are struggling to trace the source of new infections — raising concerns that several provinces are lacking crucial information to curb a potential second wave this fall. 

In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dubé and chief public health officer Dr. Horacio Arruda held a press conference on Thursday, to encourage residents to continue practising safe social distancing as the weekend approaches. Dubé said this weekend is not the time to go out partying and risk pushing a region into a higher COVID-19 alert level.

He said regions will remain yellow, but will be changed to orange in the coming days depending on the progress and the number of active cases over the weekend.

Dubé also reminded people that bars, even if they sell food, cannot sell liquor after midnight and that includes restaurants and microbreweries.

WATCH | Quebecers warned to heed health measures to slow coronavirus:

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said this weekend is not the time to go out partying and risk pushing a region into a higher COVID-19 alert level. 1:15 

As of Thursday afternoon, there are 66,356 confirmed cases in Quebec. 

B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have all reported a bump in cases throughout September, and some have paused their reopening plans as a result. 

As of 3:40 pm ET on Thursday, Canada had 140,556 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 122,842 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,238.

Meanwhile in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford unveiled a series of new measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on social gatherings in three regions and significant fines for violating the new rules. 

Ford held a news conference Thursday afternoon saying the increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases “are concerning,” and that the province has decided to “implement further restrictions,” starting Friday.

He also announced that Ontario will have the “highest fine anywhere in the entire country,” with a minimum amount of $10,000 for organizers of illegal social gatherings, and a $750 fine for individuals who “break the rules and show up to these parties.”

WATCH | Ford announces new COVID-19 gathering limits, freeze on rent increase:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled a series of new measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on social gatherings in three regions and significant fines for violating the new rules. 4:41

As a result of the growing pandemic in Ontario, health officials have shut down a high school in the Ottawa Valley after a third staff member tested positive for COVID-19 — making it the first school in the province to close since the new school year began.

All in-person classes at Fellowes High School in Pembroke, Ont., were halted Wednesday after the latest case was linked to two previous ones, also involving staff members.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Renfrew County District School Board spokesperson Jonathan Laderoute said the closure will remain in place until further notice.

“The decision was made shortly after a third case was confirmed earlier today that was linked to two previous cases,” the email reads. “The school will reopen only with public health approval.” 

WATCH | Alarms raised after COVID-19 cases close Ontario high school:

An Ottawa-area high school is the first in the province to shut down after three staff test positive for COVID-19, prompting concerns about cases in schools and how outbreaks are handled in schools. 2:02

Despite the school closure and an increasing caseload, health officials in Ontario say they can’t trace how roughly half of its latest COVID-19 cases became infected, even as Ford announced new measures to try to slow the pace of spread.

To gain insights into the September surge of COVID-19 in Canada’s largest province, CBC News has analyzed Ontario’s data on active cases — those who have most recently tested positive for the virus and are either hospitalized or still considered to be infectious. 

Data suggests that many Ontarians are currently contracting COVID-19 through unmemorable interactions with others in the course of their daily lives. Experts are worried that failing to track the source of so many new infections will hamper efforts to rein in the spread of the virus. 

A health-care worker walks along the lineup of people waiting outside a COVID-19 testing facility in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Those under 40 are driving the spread in most provinces. In Ontario, health officials have identified smaller, indoor gatherings as the culprit. Younger people may also be working in precarious jobs where their exposure is increased, or where sick days may not be readily available. 

“If we don’t understand how and where people are getting infected, it’s very hard to control this disease,” said Ashleigh Tuite, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “It suggests that our contact tracing is not up to the level that we wanted it to be.”  

Alberta is starting to see a caseload similar to that in Ontario and Quebec, which is concerning as the prairie province has a much lower population, said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. 

For the first 15 days of September in Alberta, the province has reported an average of 137 new cases of COVID-19 per day. That’s up from an average of 88 cases for that same period in August, meaning that cases have gone up by about 55 per cent in the last month.

The province is also facing widespread community transmission of COVID-19, Smith said, rather than the disease appearing in a few specific hotspots, like a long-term care facility.

While some of the increase in Alberta cases could be attributed to more testing in September with upwards of 30,000 people tested per day, Smith said these jumps in case counts are still concerning.


What’s happening around the rest of Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says dealing with COVID-19 remains his government’s number one job.

Trudeau says Canadians deserve an ambitious plan for a healthier and safer Canada, a country that’s fair and inclusive and clean and competitive.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says dealing with COVID-19 remains his government’s number one job. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

He made his comments at the end of a two-and-a-half day cabinet retreat.

A COVID-19 testing site is opening up for Indigenous people in Toronto, just in time for the cold and flu season. 

“There’s not much trust for some Indigenous folks in our health-care system because of discriminatory practices or blatant racism,” said Steve Teekens, executive director of Na-Me-Res, an emergency shelter and housing organization.

“We have a vacant building here and one of our managers thought this would be a fabulous idea to offer it up as a COVID testing facility for Indigenous people,” Teekens said. 

Roughly 250 students have been sent home from John Pritchard School in Winnipeg as the number of COVID-19 cases linked to it climbed to seven, Manitoba’s education minister said on Wednesday.

Students at the North Kildonan school in Grades 6, 7 and 8, as well as those in a split Grade 4/5 class and the Henderson Early Learning Centre (the school’s before and after program), started remote learning on Wednesday, Kelvin Goertzen said at a news conference.

“Of course, we knew that there would be cases within the school system, and we wanted to ensure that there could be quick response when those cases arose,” Goertzen said.

Those students may continue learning from home for up to two weeks, the Winnipeg school said in a letter to parents on Tuesday.

Alberta’s health minister and chief medical officer of health have said they would support repealing a piece of legislation that gives the government the power to make vaccines mandatory. 

WATCH | Rapid rise in cases in many parts of Canada, infectious disease specialist says:

Parts of Canada are seeing ‘exponential’ growth in COVID-19 cases with Ontario headed toward a thousand new cases per day, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam. 0:58

The Public Health Act currently contains a section that allows the Lieutenant Governor in Council to order Albertans to be immunized or re-immunized against a communicable disease in certain circumstances, like an epidemic. 

That power has never been used in the province’s history, nor can Dr. Deena Hinshaw imagine a scenario where it would be.

“I think if we have a piece of legislation that we’re unlikely to use, I’m not sure it provides much benefit,” she told the legislative review committee examining the act in August. “I would be comfortable with that particular piece of the legislation being removed.”

Travellers flying out of Halifax will soon have their temperature taken before liftoff to scan for one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

Next Wednesday, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) is rolling out temperature screening stations in the departure sections of 11 airports, including Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

All passengers who have a fever (38 C and above), and don’t have a medical certificate to explain a condition that would result in an elevated temperature, will not be allowed to continue their travel and will be asked to rebook after 14 days.

Leah Batstone, spokesperson for the Halifax International Airport Authority, said they’re happy to have another feature to help ease people’s fears and concerns about air travel.


What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 29.9 million. More than 941,000 people have died, while 20.3 million have recovered.

Authorities in Pakistan have closed as many as 22 schools across the country after detecting violation of physical distancing regulations amid a steady decline in COVID-19 cases.

The government action comes only two days after authorities allowed schools to reopen.

Thursday’s announcement by the military-backed command and control centre came after health officials alerted the government that students at some schools were violating distancing guidelines.

The number of new confirmed coronavirus infections have hit a record in the Czech Republic, surpassing 2,000 cases in one day for the first time.

The country’s health ministry said a total of 2,139 cases were registered on Wednesday, about 450 more than the previous number recorded a day earlier.

The ministry said 388 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19, 55 more than the previous day, with 81 in serious condition.

India has confirmed another record jump in coronavirus cases, logging 97,894 cases in the past 24 hours.

A health worker collects a swab sample from a man for a coronavirus test at a public health centre in Hyderabad, India. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

The country’s health ministry said on Thursday the new cases raised the nation’s confirmed total to more than 5.1 million since the pandemic began. It said 1,132 people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 83,198.

At the current rate of infection, India is expected within weeks to surpass the 6.6 million reported cases in the United States, which is currently the country with the most reported infections.

The number of people in the United States applying for unemployment benefits dropped to 860,000 last week, a historically high figure that reflects economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

Airline industry workers hold signs during a protest in Federal Plaza in Chicago. (AFP via Getty Images)

Before the pandemic hit the economy, the number signing up for jobless aid had never exceeded 700,000 in a week, even during the depths of the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Now they’ve topped 700,000 for 26 straight weeks.

Meanwhile, 10 fans who attended the Kansas City Chiefs game last week have been told to quarantine after one tested positive for COVID-19, Kansas City health officials announced Thursday.

A person who watched the NFL game from the group’s box in Arrowhead Stadium’s lower level tested positive a day later, the health department said.

The health department and Chiefs organization worked together to track down those who had contact with the person.

Ontario rolls back gathering limits in some areas as 293 new COVID-19 cases reported

Ontario rolls back gathering limits in some areas as 293 new COVID-19 cases reported

Ontario health officials are holding a news conference at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch it live in the player above.


Ontario is rolling back gathering limits in some areas of the province, and also implementing new fines for people who host and attend large gatherings during the pandemic, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.

This comes as the province reported 293 new cases of COVID-19. Infections in Ontario have been on an upswing since mid-August.

Ford said that starting Friday in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region, gatherings are now limited to 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors. Those new caps don’t extend to places like restaurants, movie theatres, banquet halls, gyms and convention centres.

Ford said that the new gathering limits don’t apply to those areas, as well as to schools, because they have “really strict protocols in place.”

“We’re comparing apples and oranges here,” Ford said. Instead, the new measures are meant to discourage things like parties.

Toronto Public Health has previously cited weddings, restaurants, and family trips as sources of virus transmission.

Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer for Ontario, said at a news conference Thursday that the province has seen workplace infections, as well as cases in bars and restaurants — but he also noted that the majority of those cases were “staff-to-staff transmission.”

People at any gathering must also maintain distancing measures with people outside their social bubble, Ford noted. 

“This is to send a message to the reckless, careless people who want to hold these parties,” he said.

The premier said the province is also instituting a minimum fine of $10,000 for the organizers of illegal social gatherings, as well as a $750 fine for people who show up to them.

“We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” Ford said. 

“They must be a few fries short of a happy meal, these people.”

Ford also said the province is freezing residential rent increases in 2021 and extending Ontario’s current ban on commercial evictions.

Most cases found in people under 40

According to provincial data, there were 35,134 tests completed Wednesday in Ontario, which is the most since the end of July. There is also a backlog of 37,624 tests currently under investigation.

In a tweet, Health Minister Christine Elliott said 85 new cases were found in Toronto, with 63 discovered in Peel and 39 in Ottawa.

Elliott said that 70 per cent of the new cases were found in people under 40.

WATCH: Premier Doug Ford explains the province’s new gathering limits

Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled a series of new measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on social gatherings in three regions and significant fines for violating the new rules. 4:41

“With a slight increase in hospitalizations to 53, ICU admissions and vented patients remain stable,” Elliott said.

Twenty-one patients are currently in intensive care, with 12 on a ventilator.

The province also counted an additional three deaths Thursday, bringing Ontario’s total to 2,825. A CBC analysis of local public health units, which is more up to date than the provincial figures, had the real total at 2,864 deaths as of Wednesday evening.

The province also marked 179 cases as resolved on Thursday.

Virus cases concentrated in urban areas

A CBC analysis shows that Ontario’s active cases — the bulk of which have been reported since Sept. 1 — are concentrated in the province’s most densely populated urban areas. Ottawa and the five public health units in the Greater Toronto Area account for 84 per cent of the current cases.

Of the more than 2,300 currently active cases in Ontario:

  • The suspected method of exposure for 54 per cent of cases is either unknown, missing or labelled as “no epidemiological link,” which means the novel coronavirus is being spread in the community.
  • More than one-third of active cases are among people in their 20s, even though that age group makes up only 14 per cent of the province’s population. 
  • More than half of active cases are in just two public health units — Toronto and Peel Region.

As cases trend upwards, the Ontario NDP says it plans to force a vote Thursday afternoon in the legislature on a motion to cap class sizes at 15 students.

“Parents are growing increasingly worried about their little ones’ safety,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.

“COVID-19 cases keep going up, and more new infections are being reported every day among the students and staff who are back in school, with one school already being forced to shut down because of COVID-19 cases.”

COVID cases have been reported at multiple schools in the province in recent days, largely clustered in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

Williams said Thursday there have been 62 COVID-19 cases found so far in Ontario schools, with 20 cases identified in students and 22 in staff, with 20 not yet identified.

Williams said when the number of people heading back to schools is considered, it is “still reassuring” that the number of infections isn’t higher.

Horwath said the province’s plan still wasn’t good enough.

“Doug Ford is penny-pinching on the backs of students, jamming kids into full-size classes to avoid having to hire more teachers and education workers,” Horwath said. 

“Parents, kids, teachers, education workers, school boards and public health experts recommend smaller class sizes. Today, with the province on the brink of a second wave, I’m calling on the legislature to change course, and finally cap all class sizes at 15.”

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has a majority, so for the motion to pass a number of MPPs would have to vote against their own government’s back-to-school plan. 

What we know about Ontario’s September surge in COVID-19 infections

What we know about Ontario’s September surge in COVID-19 infections

Public health officials can’t trace how roughly half of Ontario’s latest COVID-19 cases got infected, even as Premier Doug Ford prepares fresh measures to try to slow the pace of spread.   

To gain insights into the September surge of COVID-19 in Canada’s largest province, CBC News has analyzed Ontario’s data on active cases — those who have most recently tested positive for the virus and are either hospitalized or still considered to be infectious. 

This gives a clearer picture of current trends that can’t always be spotted in the province’s daily release of COVID-19 numbers.     

Of the more than 2,300 currently active cases in Ontario:

  • The suspected method of exposure for 54 per cent of cases is either unknown, missing or labelled as “no epidemiological link,” which means the novel coronavirus is being spread in the community.
  • More than one-third of active cases are among people in their 20s, even though that age group makes up only 14 per cent of the province’s population.  
  • More than half of active cases are in just two public health units — Toronto and Peel Region. 

The data suggests that many Ontarians are currently contracting COVID-19 through unmemorable interactions with others in the course of their daily lives. Experts are worried that failing to track the source of so many new infections will hamper efforts to rein in the spread of the virus. 

“If we don’t understand how and where people are getting infected, it’s very hard to control this disease,” said Ashleigh Tuite, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “It suggests that our contact tracing is not up to the level that we wanted it to be.” 

Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 need to be based on good data about the types of locations and activities that are driving the increase in infections, said Tuite in an interview Wednesday. “If we have a large number of cases who are getting infected and we can’t trace where they’re getting their infection, it’s really hard to respond to that.”   

Provincial and local officials are poised to announce stricter prevention measures in Ontario’s most-affected regions, such as lowering the maximum size of social gatherings and stiffer fines for people who break public health rules. 

Currently all of the province’s public health units are under Stage 3 of looser pandemic restrictions. Stage 3 allows gatherings of as many as 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, with the requirement that physical distancing of two metres be maintained between people not in the same social circle.

CBC’s analysis shows that Ontario’s active cases — the bulk of which have been reported since Sept. 1 — are concentrated in the province’s most densely populated urban areas. Ottawa and the five public health units in the Greater Toronto Area account for 84 per cent of the current cases.

Premier Doug Ford is promising to lower the limits on social gatherings in a bid to stem Ontario’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases, particularly in Toronto, Ottawa and the Region of Peel. (Carlos Osorio/The Canadian Press)

“If we act quickly and strongly in those regions that are seeing increased cases, we might be able to avoid wider-spread restrictions,” said Tuite.

There are just six active cases in all of northern Ontario, home to nearly 800,000 people. 

The vast geographic differences in the infection rate make it unlikely that the Ford government will impose any across-the-board rollbacks of Ontario’s reopening plan.

Ford has in recent days spoken with mayors and public health officials in Toronto, Ottawa and the Peel Region cities of Mississauga and Brampton about tighter restrictions. “When we’re all agreeing on policies and guidelines to be put in place, we act quickly and we’re going to act quickly on this,” Ford told a news conference Wednesday. 

As the pandemic has worn on, there’s been a noticeable rise in cases among younger adults, and the current Ontario data shows a dramatic surge among people in their 20s. They now make up 34 per cent of Ontario’s active cases.

That means someone in their 20s is more than twice as likely to have a fresh case of COVID-19 than you’d expect based on the size of that population.

Nearly two-thirds of all active cases in the province are among people younger than 40, a demographic that represents roughly half the population.

“You hear anecdotally, it’s because people in that age bracket are less scared and they’re not taking the precautions that other age groups are taking,” said Tuite. “Another explanation is that a lot of people in that age demographic need to be out to work. They’re the people who are working in restaurants. They’re the people who are working in bars.” 

New information from Toronto Public Health suggests staff are currently far more likely than customers to contract COVID-19 in retail and food-service environments. 

Younger people make up bulk of cases

Long lines at testing centres, like this one pictured in Toronto on Sept. 16, 2020, mirror a spike in cases of COVID-19 provincial health officials link to people under 40 not following public health guidelines at social gatherings. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The flip side of the demographic data suggests there’s been some recent success in preventing the spread of the disease to the most vulnerable age group, Ontario’s oldest citizens, but there are concerns that may not continue as the pace of spread accelerates. 

Another factor in Ontario’s September surge that worries the epidemiologists is the rising percentage of Ontario’s daily tests that are positive for COVID-19.

“When you start having higher positivity, it suggests that we’re probably missing a fair number of cases,” explained Tuite.

Research by Tuite and her colleague David Fisman shows the positive test rate among people in their 20s has shot up in the past few weeks and is currently running above four per cent, roughly four times higher than the general population. 

The World Health Organization recommends governments impose tighter public health restrictions if they are seeing a positivity rate of five per cent. 

Multiple provinces are seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases. What needs to be done now?

Multiple provinces are seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases. What needs to be done now?

A resurgence in coronavirus infections  in several provinces over the last few weeks has raised alarms about current disease control measures in place and what steps need to be taken to curb the spread of the virus. 

B.C, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have all reported a bump in cases throughout September, and some have paused their reopening plans as a result. 

Those under 40 are driving the spread in most provinces. In Ontario, health officials have identified smaller, indoor gatherings as the culprit. Younger people may also be working in precarious jobs where their exposure is increased, or where sick days may not be readily available. 

Officials will need to determine which reopening policies to roll back and which to keep, as cases mount. Those choices will need to be made quickly, infectious disease experts told CBC News. 

“In pandemics, it’s all about the speed of response,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at Jewish General Hospital and assistant professor at McGill University in Montreal. 

“The slower you are for something that spreads and expands exponentially, the father and farther behind you’re going to get.” 

CBC News spoke to experts in three provinces that are seeing stark increases in caseloads — Alberta, Ontario and Quebec — about what needs to be done immediately in order to keep COVID-19 case numbers as low as possible. 

‘Difficult decisions’ on keeping businesses open

Alberta is starting to see a similar case load to Ontario and Quebec, which is concerning as the prairie province has a much lower population, said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. 

For the first 15 days of September in Alberta, the province has reported an average of 137 new cases of COVID-19 per day. That’s up from an average of 88 cases for that same period in August, meaning that cases have gone up by about 55 per cent in the last month.

The province is also facing widespread community transmission of COVID-19, rather than the disease appearing in a few specific hotspots, like a long-term care facility, said Smith.

While some of the increase in Alberta cases could be attributed to more testing in September, with upwards of 30,000 people tested per day, these jumps in case counts are still concerning, said Smith.

WATCH| How will a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus cases need to be handled?:

Infectious disease specialists answer questions about a second wave of COVID-19 including when it might hit and if increases need to be handled differently than the first wave. 7:57

“If there’s ongoing, rising cases, I think public health will have to make the difficult decisions to look at whether we should be closing certain types of businesses,” she said. 

“It makes it more challenging for public health, because there’s a huge reluctance to go backwards … when it’s so detrimental to the economy.”

Targeted information about public health measures needs to be given to young people and those who face health inequities in urban centres, said Smith. 

“Each individual public health unit need to determine where they are seeing cases and determine the best steps in terms in trying to mitigate those rising numbers,” she said. “It does very much depend on the particular demographics.” 

Large indoor gatherings need to be halted in Ontario: professor

As Ontario continues to report a surge in coronavirus cases, the province plans to reimpose public health restrictions on residents.

Ontario has seen an average of 184 cases a day for the first 15 days of September, compared to 90 cases a day for the same period in August. This amounts to a 104 per cent increase in reported infections, month over month.

On Wednesday, the Ford government announced that limits on social gatherings would be implemented in some regions. Ontario has taken a staged approach to the pandemic since March and allowed for variation in the reopening plan depending on the case load in a particular region. 

WATCH| Ontario looks to the private sector to handle long line-ups at testing centres:

Health minister Christine Elliott told reporters the province has received reports of “significant lineups in many parts of Ontario” at COVID-19 testing centres. As Chris Glover explains, the premier is negotiating with private pharmacies to step in to help. 2:39

The source of the uptick in COVID-19 cases is being driven by younger people in Ontario, just as some are beginning to return to university campuses, said Gerald Evans, an epidemiologist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

And a rise in infections within that age demographic is consistent with what’s been reported in other countries, such as Austria, France and Spain, he said.

While younger people tend to have less serious infections, there’s no guarantee the virus won’t spread to more vulnerable groups.

“We know from heat maps from lots of countries where you look at the continued rising numbers in that age demographic, is that it emerges into the general community … and into the elderly,” he said, adding that it will also impact children and staff in schools. 

The Ontario government also needs to look into curtailing some businesses that opened in Stage 3, such as limiting bar hours and pausing events like indoors weddings, said Evans. 

Harder hit neighbourhoods need increased support

Neighbourhoods bearing the brunt of COVID-19 in urban centres like Toronto need more targeted supports as cases rise, said Arjumand Siddiqi, an associate professor at Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Canada Research Chair in population health equity.

WATCH| Neighbourhoods at higher risk for COVID-19 in Toronto require more supports:

Data released by Toronto Public Health reveals that systemic inequities have made high-density communities with low-income residents particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. 1:58

These neighbourhoods, where more people of colour live, are facing long-standing health inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, said Siddiqi. 

Eighty-three percent of Toronto’s COVID-19 cases are Black people and other people of colour, according to July data from the City of Toronto. 

 A real investment in these neighbourhoods by governments is required to keep people safe, she said. 

“COVID is the umpteenth health outcome to show a disparity because we never get to that conversation about what we fundamentally need to do to fix the fact that health care is unequally distributed.”

In the short term, that investment could look like more isolation centres for those in high-density housing that don’t have room to distance, as well as better access and transportation to testing facilities, she said.

As well, many people of colour who live in these areas are in low-paying jobs that put them at greater risk of COVID-19, said Siddiqi.

“A lot of low wage jobs don’t have sick leave. So providing that, and encouraging the kind of policies that would make sure that people can actually use their sick leave.”

Policing private, indoor gatherings a challenge in Quebec

Dr. Matthew Oughton says cases in Quebec are “picking up speed” in terms of community spread and that the majority of cases are happening with a younger population.

The average number of cases Quebec has reported in the first 15 days of September has been around 204 per day, compared to 90 per day the province recorded for the same period in August.

“The major contributor seems to be not one huge outbreak … but seems to be much more community transmission based on small family and friend gatherings,” said Oughton.

WATCH| Cases climb in Quebec despite months of restrictions:

Quebec faces the highest rate of new cases in months despite businesses and the government enforcing safety rules. 1:55

If cases continue to climb in Quebec, “there’s a real risk” schools will need to be shuttered, Premier François Legault said at a press conference Wednesday.

“It’s very complex to see how we can enforce the maximum of 10 [people in private gatherings] or social distancing in every house in Quebec,” Legault told reporters. 

While Oughton says he sympathizes with the challenges the government is facing — he says the province has been “aggressive” with their reopening plan in recent months and it was likely too much, too fast.

“The Quebec government was very aggressive at getting children back to school. Their list of medical exemptions that would allow a child to stay home and do distance learning was very, very restrictive,” he said. 

On Tuesday, Quebec reported at least 377 cases of COVID-19 across 223 schools. 

“We don’t have a well-established broad-scale program for distance learning and it looks more and more if this trend continues that we’re going to need that,” said Oughton.

Businesses like bars may be hard to keep open as infections rise if keeping schools open remains a priority, he said. 

“That’s no where near sufficient. [COVID-19] spreads exponentially, and we need to be ahead of this, not constantly playing catch-up,” he said.

Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

The latest:

Ontario is planning to lower the limits on social gatherings in a bid to stem a recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

Premier Doug Ford’s office has confirmed the move but won’t say when the new health guidelines will be available. The current limit on social gatherings is 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.

Provincial health officials have attributed the spike in cases largely to people not following public health guidelines at social gatherings.

As of 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 139,747 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 122,449 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,235.

Ontario reported another 315 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — more than half of which are in people under 40. Quebec reported 303 new cases, marking the first time since May 30 the province has had more than 300 in day. Alberta reported 171 new cases.

Ford has promised to take action in Ontario regions where most of the cases have emerged — Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa. He has also not ruled out further lockdowns in those areas if virus case numbers aren’t brought under control.

Infection control epidemiologist Dr. Colin Furness says the surge is either the sign of a “vicious” second wave beginning or — more likely — a reflection of recent fatigue with coronavirus guidelines and regulations. He says one thing that would help slow the surge is to close bars and restaurants.

“Right now, you can book a big table in a restaurant with lots of people not wearing masks, but you can’t do the same thing in your living room,” he told CBC News. And he said that doesn’t sit well with some people. 

“We need a very clear, simple rule. And really, we need to have people not in the same air space not wearing masks.”

With the sudden spike in cases prompting more people to get tested, Canadians are coping with hours-long lineups at COVID-19 testing centres across the country — and some medical experts are calling on Health Canada to approve new devices to deliver faster results.

WATCH | How Ford says Ontario is preparing for a second wave: 

Saying a second wave of COVID-19 may be even more complicated than the first one, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government has been working around the clock to prepare for it. 3:05

Concerned parents and their children faced four-hour waits at Ottawa’s primary testing facility on Monday. A similar scene greeted those looking for a test on Tuesday. At Toronto’s William Osler drive-thru testing centre, residents were kept waiting for more than three hours.

Health Minister Patti Hajdu said Wednesday that the Canadian government is not yet ready to deploy a rapid test because it is not yet satisfied with any of the options it has reviewed.

She said Health Canada will not approve a test that in any way endangers the health of Canadians. 

“I will say tests that don’t have a degree of accuracy to the satisfaction of the regulators can actually create further harms in communities,” Hajdu said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two antigen testing devices several months ago. 

A medical staff member conducts a COVID-19 test at North York General Hospital. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Health officials in Ottawa are urging people who don’t have symptoms or have not been referred to stop clogging up test sites.

There have been what they’ve described as record-breaking lines at testing centres recently as the city’s positive tests surge to levels not seen since early May.

Officials say most people coming for testing don’t need to be there, which is causing a backlog. 

“Most simply, [get tested] if you have symptoms or you’ve been referred by public health,” said Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, in a news conference Tuesday. 

Epidemiologist Furness says that is not a solution. He said anyone who feels they might have been exposed to the virus should get a test, whether they have symptoms or not. 

“There are two very opposing schools of thought among public health officials,” he said. “One is that we should limit testing as a scarce resource and only use it when we need to. That perspective … is flat out wrong and dangerous in my view.” 

He said instead, testing capacity should be increased.

WATCH | Furness’s full thoughts on how to slow the surge of cases:

Infection control epidemiologist Dr. Colin Furness talks about some of the causes and possible solutions to the surging number of cases in several Canadian provinces. 1:28

What’s happening around the rest of Canada

As schools reopen across much of the country, some are voicing concern about the rising number of COVID-19 cases among students and worrying that not enough is being done to protect both children and teachers. 

Ontario’s Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has confirmed its first student case of COVID-19 at one of its schools, marking the region’s first reported infection in a school. 

Stella Maris Catholic Elementary School in Amherstburg, Ont., was first notified of the diagnosis Tuesday morning, board officials said, and classmates of the COVID-positive student were dismissed through the day and asked to self-isolate for two weeks.

WATCH | How the first day of school looks in a pandemic:

The National follows a Toronto family on their first day of school during the COVID-19 pandemic. 3:24

“As soon as we were made aware of the positive case we contacted the health unit,” said Melissa Farrand, the school board’s COVID-19 lead. She said the health unit then worked with the school principal to find those who had been in close contact.

Five positive cases of COVID-19 have also been recorded within the Saskatoon school and daycare systems since students began returning to class last week.

“Due to the block scheduling and safety protocols that are currently in place, the SHA has determined the risk to be very low for our school community and there is no evidence of community transmission,” said a letter shared with parents.

Meanwhile, in Hamilton, Ont., educators and their unions are becoming increasingly worried about what they say is a large number of students not wearing masks in local public schools.

A teacher looks out into the hallway at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Jeff Sorensen, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local, told CBC News there are complaints coming from staff at schools, with one school apparently reporting 25 per cent of students not wearing masks.

Families can opt out of mandatory masking in Hamilton schools if their children have medical issues that would prevent them from using a face covering or mask or if they have difficulty breathing in one. But they don’t need to provide any proof.

“It’s alarming,” Sorensen said.

Internationally, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said closing schools again should be a “last resort” and only applied in places with high levels of transmission.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus touted the importance of keeping schools open, when possible, and warned that the more kids are out of school, the less likely they are to return in many places.

He said “distance learning” should be available where possible. 

WATCH | Students ask: What do we do with masks at recess?

An infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist answer questions about COVID-19 and back to school, including what to do with masks during recess and whether reusable lunch kits should be avoided. 7:13

In Canada, the transition to virtual schooling has not been a smooth one, with issues like parents feeling left in the dark, postponements, enrolment lists in flux and technical hiccups.

“I have zero faith that [schools are] organized… The feeling I get is that they don’t have a plan, they’re not prepared,” said Ashley St John, a Toronto mother of a blended family of five children between the ages of two months and 12 years.

Parents in Calgary are also decrying a lack of key information and details about the Calgary Board of Education’s Hub online learning program, which was slated to begin as early as Monday.

“We just don’t have any information as to what time we need to be home and in front of our computers to be able to let the kids connect with their teachers,” said Tamara Rose, who is working from home full time due to multiple autoimmune diseases. 

In Quebec, the wife of Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said she is in self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

In a tweet, Nancy Deziel said she was tested Monday after losing her sense of smell.

Deziel said she and those close to her will be in isolation until next Tuesday. She’s continuing to work remotely as a scientist and city councillor in Shawinigan, Que.

Blanchet himself, along with the Bloc Québécois caucus, was already in isolation as a precaution, after a member of his staff tested positive Monday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 early in the pandemic but has recovered.

What’s happening around the world

The head of the United Nations says the COVID-19 pandemic remains “out of control,” with the world approaching “the grimmest of milestones: one million lives lost to the virus.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference Wednesday that the coronavirus “is the number one global security threat in our world today,” posing a crisis that is “unlike any in our lifetimes.”

He said that’s why he called for a global ceasefire of all armed conflict on March 23 to tackle the pandemic.

He stressed that a vaccine “must be seen as a global public good, because COVID-19 respects no borders,” and also said that a vaccine must be “affordable and available to all — a people’s vaccine.”

(CBC News)

Spain’s official death toll for the coronavirus surpassed 30,000. The total cases increased beyond 600,000, as Spain became the first European country to reach that threshold.

The Health Ministry added 9,400 new confirmed infections to the total and 156 deaths.

The country has been experiencing one of Europe’s steepest second curves of contagion, with new cases increasing since mid-July.

With 1,273 patients in ICUs, Spain has as many beds devoted to treat grave patients of COVID-19 as France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy together. Officials say selective lockdowns could be back in place by next week. 

Amid growing anger over a bottleneck in the United Kingdom’s creaking coronavirus testing system, the government promised on Wednesday to do whatever it takes to boost laboratory capacity, which has left people across the land with no way to get a COVID-19 test.

In an attempt to slow one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the West, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised in May to create a “world-beating” system to test and trace people exposed to the virus.

A worker opens a COVID-19 test site in South London on Wednesday. The Department of Health has appealed to the U.K.’s biomedical sector for 400 further laboratory technicians as the nation’s return to school increases demand for tests. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

But repeated attempts by Reuters reporters to get COVID-19 tests failed, while at a walk-in testing centre at Southend-on-Sea in eastern England, hundreds of people were queuing to get a test — some from as early as 5 a.m. GMT.

“Laboratory capacity has been an issue. We are working our way through that,” Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News.

WATCH | Respirologist describes ‘alarming’ wait times for COVID-19 testing:

Testing capacity for the coronavirus could be boosted with a rapid testing device, even if it’s not entirely accurate, says Dr. Samir Gupta, an associate professor at the University of Toronto. 5:48

The WHO regional director for Latin America is warning the region is reopening too soon.

During a virtual briefing, Carissa Etienne said coronavirus cases in Colombia’s border area with Venezuela have increased ten-fold in the last two weeks, and that death rates are climbing in parts of Mexico, with similar trends in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Bolivia and areas of Argentina. 

“We must be clear that opening up too early gives this virus more room to spread and puts our populations at greater risk. Look no further than Europe,” she said.

Canada not yet ready to deploy rapid COVID testing devices, says health minister

Canada not yet ready to deploy rapid COVID testing devices, says health minister

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that Health Canada is not yet satisfied with any of the options it has been reviewing for rapid COVID-19 testing devices — and they will not be deployed across the country until regulators are satisfied they work to a certain standard.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two antigen testing devices months ago — tests that can deliver results in less than 15 minutes — Health Canada is not ready to put its stamp of approval on such tests, Hajdu told reporters at the Liberal cabinet retreat in Ottawa.

She dismissed past U.S. approvals for such devices, saying Canada would rely on its own data.

“We have not had a test submitted to Health Canada for approval yet that satisfies the regulator’s concerns around accuracy,” she said. “We’re not there yet.

“We will not at Health Canada approve a test that, in any way, endangers Canadians’ health and I will say tests that don’t have a degree of accuracy to the satisfaction of the regulators can actually create further harms in communities.”

‘False sense of security’

She said the agency has more research to do to ensure the efficacy of these devices. Some experts have been calling for the swift introduction of rapid tests in Canada, citing recent spikes in the COVID-19 caseload and long waits for conventional tests.

She said she doesn’t want Canadians flocking to pharmacies to get substandard tests that give them a “false sense of security.”

“The hold-up is the technology,” she said, when asked why Health Canada was taking so long to approve the devices.

The FDA, meanwhile, has said approved antigen tests are a safe and reliable way to determine a person’s COVID-19 status.

“Diagnostic testing is one of the pillars of our nation’s response to COVID-19 and the FDA continues to take actions to help make these critical products available,” the agency said in May.

“Antigen tests will play a critical role in the fight against COVID-19.”

Hajdu announced today that she will convene a panel of experts to help the government review its testing device strategy some seven months into the pandemic.

She said this advisory panel will “help us look at combinations of testing strategies.”

People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The move comes as health experts like Dr. David Naylor, one of the country’s top doctors and a co-chair of the federal COVID-19 task force, are calling on Health Canada to make testing more accessible at convenient locations and at high-risk sites like schools and some workplaces.

Long lines for testing centres have become commonplace in many parts of the country.

People seeking tests have reported being forced to wait in line for hours at testing sites in Ottawa and Toronto — delays that have made testing a struggle for parents with young children.

While Canadians wait for Health Canada to make more devices readily available, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said today that the province is preparing to deploy some form of testing to hundreds more sites at retailers, such as pharmacies.

This testing would be mostly for asymptomatic people who want to know their COVID status, he said. Testing is already available at pharmacies in some provinces, including Alberta.

After the cabinet retreat, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted his government’s $19-billion “safe restart agreement” that will flow federal funds to the provinces and territories to help them grapple with the resurgence of the virus.

He said that some of that money could be used to bolster a province’s testing capacity.

Dr. Dick Menzies, a professor of respiratory epidemiology and an expert on tuberculosis at McGill University, said these testing delays were entirely predictable.

“It’s kind of regrettable because we could have foreseen that this was going to happen in the fall. The second wave was predicted by many when schools re-opened,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

Menzies said the government should make rapid, saliva-based testing more readily available to reduce the strain on the existing testing centres, which he said should be reserved for people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

“Saliva sampling turns out to be as good — maybe even better — but certainly as good as nasal pharyngeal swabs for COVID,” Menzies said, citing his own research on testing.

“Clearly, the sampling time is too long for the demand and the personnel. So you’ve got to look for quicker ways to sample and saliva is an obvious solution for these mobile or walk-in centres for people at low risk.”

‘Unpleasant’ and risky

He said the current nasal swab testing process is an “unpleasant” experience that routinely provokes coughing and sneezing fits among those being tested — which is risky for health care practitioners administering the test.

With saliva tests, there’s no “aerosol” or droplets being generated, he said.

“There’s no worker being exposed … it’s much safer to adopt in places like pharmacies,” he said.

The antigen rapid tests — which, depending on the device, use matter collected from a nasal or throat swab — don’t require the use of a lab to generate results.

While much faster, these tests are considered by some to be less accurate than the “gold standard” — the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing process currently in use across Canada.

If administered properly, PCR tests are highly accurate, identifying positive cases nearly 100 per cent of the time. Antigen tests are also considered highly accurate but they are not as sensitive as molecular PCR tests run through a lab.

In May, the FDA gave approvals for Quidel Corporation’s Sofia 2 SARS device through an emergency use authorization. Quidel claims its test has a 96.7 per cent sensitivity rate within five days of the onset of patient symptoms.

In July, the FDA issued approvals for Becton Dickinson’s Veritor System for Rapid Detection of SARS-CoV-2. The devices have since been deployed to 11,000 nursing homes across the U.S. to screen residents and staff.

The company said it expects to have the manufacturing capacity for 2 million tests per week by the end of September.