The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Wednesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
6:09 p.m.: Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region’s medical officer of health, is leaving his post to become the executive director and CEO of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
Loh, who led the public health response in one of the regions hit hardest in the pandemic, will take on his new role in September.
The college, which represents more than 42,000 doctors, cited Loh’s leadership during the COVID-19 crisis in its announcement of his appointment, noting decisions he made as Peel’s top doctor “saved lives.”
During his time as the region’s top doctor, Loh imposed public health measures, such as banning large wedding receptions and shuttering non-essential businesses, that often came sooner and went further than those made by the province.
Read the full story here by Megan Ogilvie.
5:38 p.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing “very mild symptoms,” including a cough, his office announced Wednesday.
Inslee, who is fully vaccinated and has had two booster shots, took a rapid antigen test that came back positive Wednesday, his office said in a news release. He is working from home and consulting with his doctors to set up antiviral treatments.
“I am experiencing very mild symptoms and am most glad I’m vaccinated and boosted,” Inslee, 71, said in a statement. “I hope others consider getting their booster because it’s very effective in preventing serious illness.”
Citing rising infections and hospitalizations from COVID-19, state public health officials are again urging Washingtonians to wear face masks indoors.
2:07 p.m. An extensive study of thousands of COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals found links between the severity of their infections and the levels of common air pollutants they experience.
“This adds to existing evidence that air pollution is a silent killer,” said Chen Chen, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of California and lead author of the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The study looked at more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases in Ontario patients in 2020. It broke out how many of those patients were admitted to hospital because of the disease, how many were transferred to intensive care units and how many died.
Researchers then turned to previously developed data that combined air monitoring records with other sources, such as satellite imagery, to model levels across Ontario of three common pollutants — fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone.
1:45 p.m. The Minnesota Twins placed starting pitcher Joe Ryan on the COVID-19 injured list on Wednesday, bumping the surging rookie from his upcoming turn.
Ryan was scheduled to pitch on Thursday against Kansas City. Manager Rocco Baldelli said Ryan was “doing OK.”
The 25-year-old right-hander, who made five starts last season after being acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, is 5-2 with a 2.28 ERA in eight starts this year. Ryan has 14 walks and 42 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings with a .186 opponent batting average. He leads all major league rookies in wins and innings and is second in strikeouts.
1:30 p.m. We’ve all seen the photos and videos on social media: thick crowds of people at Canada’s busiest airport, suitcase mountains beside carousels and long, long lines at security screening.
Simply put, your next airport experience will likely be different than on previous trips, says the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA). A sharp increase in travellers, remaining COVID-19 health screening and staffing shortages have combined to create what many have described in one word: chaos.
So whether you’re planning a trip, or just browsing travel sites dreaming of landing a sweet deal to your next bucket-list locale, here’s a checklist to help make your next flight experience as painless as possible.
Read the full story from the Star’s Ivy Mak
1 p.m. Ontario is reporting 160 people in the ICU due to COVID-19 and 1,082 in hospital overall testing positive for COVID-19, according to its latest report released Wednesday morning.
Of the people hospitalized, 41.4 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 58.7 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive. For the ICU numbers, 65.5 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 34.5 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive.
The numbers represent a 1.9 per cent increase in the ICU COVID-19 count and a 21.6 per cent increase/decrease in hospitalizations overall. 24.9 per cent of the province’s 2,343 adult ICU beds remain available for new patients.
Read the full story from the Star’s Aisling Murphy
12:37 p.m. Pfizer said Wednesday that it will provide nearly two dozen products, including its top-selling COVID-19 vaccine and treatment, at not-for-profit prices in some of the world’s poorest countries.
The drugmaker announced the program at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, and said it was aimed at improving health equity in 45 lower-income countries. Most of the countries are in Africa, but the list also includes Haiti, Syria, Cambodia and North Korea.
The products, which are widely available in the U.S. and the European Union, include 23 medicines and vaccines that treat infectious diseases, some cancers and rare and inflammatory conditions. Company spokeswoman Pam Eisele said only a small number of the medicines and vaccines are currently available in the 45 countries.
12 p.m.: The head of the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that efforts to investigate problems at a baby formula plant linked to the nationwide shortage were slowed by COVID-19, scheduling conflicts and even a missing piece of mail.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf laid out a series of setbacks in congressional testimony that slowed his agency’s response by months, including a whistleblower complaint that didn’t reach FDA leadership due to a “mailroom failure.”
Califf testified before a House subcommittee probing the shortage, which has forced the U.S. to begin airlifting products from Europe while many parents still hunt for scarce supplies in stores.
The FDA and President Joe Biden face mounting pollical pressure to explain why they didn’t intervene earlier to try and address the supply problems. The oversight subcommittee’s ranking Republican quickly zeroed in on the slow response.
11 a.m. Boris Johnson and his senior officials must bear responsibility for the illegal parties held in Downing Street during the pandemic, according to a long-awaited internal probe into the so-called partygate scandal.
Civil servant Sue Gray, who was commissioned by Johnson to investigate the allegations, found examples of officials boasting about getting away with drinks parties and evidence they knew what they were doing was wrong.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” Gray said in her report published Wednesday. “The senior leadership at the center, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Gray’s full findings were due weeks ago, at a time when many in Westminster predicted they had the potential to end Johnson’s political career. But the report was delayed by a separate police inquiry and attention has since shifted to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Conservative Members of Parliament are now showing far less inclination to try to oust the prime minister.
9 a.m. A COVID-19 surge is underway that is starting to cause disruptions as the school year wraps up and Americans prepare for summer vacations. Many people, though, have returned to their pre-pandemic routines and plans, which often involve travel.
Case counts are as high as they’ve been since mid-February and those figures are likely a major undercount because of unreported positive home test results and asymptomatic infections. Earlier this month, an influential modeling group at the University of Washington in Seattle estimated that only 13% of cases were being reported to U.S. health authorities.
Hospitalizations are also up and more than one-third of the U.S. population lives in areas that are considered at high risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Northeast has been hit the hardest.
Yet vaccinations have stagnated and elected officials nationwide seem loath to impose new restrictions on a public that’s ready to move on even as the U.S. death toll surpassed 1 million people less than 2 1/2 years into the outbreak.
“People probably are underestimating the prevalence of COVID,” said Crystal Watson, public health lead in the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security’s Coronavirus Resource Center. “I think there’s a lot more virus out there than we recognize, and so people are much, much more likely than they anticipate to be exposed and infected.”
A major metric for the pandemic — the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. — skyrocketed over the last two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The figure was about 76,000 on May 9 and jumped to nearly 109,000 on Monday. That was the highest it had been since mid-February, when the omicron-fueled surge was winding down.
Deaths are still on the decline and hospital intensive care units aren’t swamped like they were at other times during the pandemic, likely because vaccinations and immunity from people who have already had the disease are keeping many cases less severe.
“The nature of the disease has changed. Two years ago I was seeing a steady flow of bad pneumonia cases. Now we are in a situation where people should be able to avoid that outcome by taking advantage of vaccines, pre-exposure prophylaxis (for high risk), and early anti-viral therapy,” Dr. Jonathan Dworkin, a clinical infectious diseases physician in Hawaii, said by email.
In Hawaii, which once had one of the nation’s lowest rates of infection, hospitalization and death, new cases are surging among the state’s 1.4 million residents. The University of Hawaii will again require masks indoors across its 10-campus system beginning Wednesday.
With cases climbing for eight straight weeks, Hawaii has the second highest infection rate of any state, trailing only Rhode Island. But because positive home test results aren’t counted in official data, Hawaii’s health department estimates that the case count is actually five or six times higher.
Despite its surge, visitors have been flocking to Hawaii’s beaches, especially in recent months.
8 a.m. Stocks listed in Saudi Arabia are poised for their worst month since the start of the pandemic as investors succumb to global risk-off sentiment amid recession fears.
The benchmark Tadawul All Share Index has declined 10 per cent in May, nearly twice as much as the MSCI Emerging Markets gauge, and on track for its biggest monthly slide since March 2020. Banks accounted for the biggest drag as investors offloaded lenders with lofty valuations during a global equities correction.
“Investors are taking money off the table looking at the strong bout of selling in the international market,” said Faisal Hasan, chief investment officer at Al Mal Capital in Dubai. Still, the economic backdrop in the kingdom should stay strong as oil prices remain elevated and the second half of the year could provide some reprieve to Saudi shares, he said.
7:38 a.m. Several years ago in Hamilton, a number of city workers were fired for alleged time theft and in some cases, alleged asphalt theft. You likely remember. It was a huge story.
But axing staff isn’t easy. Most of the employees were eventually rehired after an arbitrator found in their favour. The process was expensive. Many received back pay and the city spent more than half a million dollars in legal fees fighting what was ultimately a losing battle.
It’s a cautionary tale that has been mentioned in the past few days. Because that was for 29 people. On June 1, the city is planning to fire as many as 440 of its workers for not being vaccinated.
“This is the most significant mass termination in the history of the City of Hamilton,” says Coun. Sam Merulla.
The question is, can the city win this battle?
7:20 a.m. People with long COVID-19 who visited a U.S. Northwestern Medicine clinic were still experiencing symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue and brain fog for a median of 15 months after first falling ill, despite never needing hospitalization, according to a new Northwestern study.
The study looked at 52 patients who were seen at Northwestern’s Neuro COVID-19 clinic between May 2020 and November 2020, who initially had mild COVID-19 symptoms. Study senior author Dr. Igor Koralnik said the study is the first to look, over such a long time period, at neurological symptoms in people who didn’t need to be hospitalized for COVID-19.
The study was published Tuesday in peer-reviewed journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.
“It’s important because … long COVID is not going to be going away,” said Koralnik, who is chief of Neuro-infectious Diseases and Global Neurology at Northwestern Medicine and oversees the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic.
Researchers believe long COVID may affect up to 30% of people who get COVID-19, which means an estimated 24 million people in the U.S. may be experiencing lingering symptoms, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, though some studies have found that being vaccinated may reduce a person’s risk of developing long COVID if they catch COVID-19.
“This is something people need to know about because it impacts a very large population in the U.S.,” Koralnik said.
In the study, there was no significant change in the frequency of patients experiencing symptoms including brain fog, numbness/tingling, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus and fatigue, between their first appointments and when they completed questionnaires six to nine months later.
Loss of taste and smell decreased over time, but heart rate and blood pressure variation and gastrointestinal symptoms increased at follow-up.
The average age of the participants was 43, and nearly two-thirds were women. More than two-thirds were vaccinated, but they were vaccinated after they began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms because the vaccines were not yet available when they first got sick. The vaccines did not seem to worsen or improve their cognitive function or fatigue, according to the study.
Read the full Chicago Tribune story here.
Wednesday 5:43 a.m.: Germany’s health minister says the government plans to suspend a pandemic rule requiring people to show proof of vaccination, a negative test result or recent recovery from COVID-19 to enter the country over the summer.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told the Funke newspaper group in comments published Wednesday that the rule, which applies to everyone age 12 and above regardless of where they are traveling from, will be suspended from June 1 to the end of August.
Germany has not had any countries on its list of “high-risk areas” for the coronavirus since early March.
Confirmed coronavirus case numbers have declined steadily in Germany in recent weeks, and most restrictions have been lifted.
However, the government last week announced plans to spend another 830 million euros ($889 million) to buy vaccines that would help the country deal with a series of possible variants in the fall.
Read Tuesday’s coronavirus news.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION