Today’s coronavirus news: One third of Canada’s active cases are in Alberta; Ontario updates school screening guidelines

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

3:31 p.m.: In Crescent City, Calif., the mortuary is filled beyond capacity and needs a refrigerated truck to hold bodies. The small hospital is so full that it is lining up helicopters to fly COVID-19 patients out of remote Del Norte County. So many employees are out with coronavirus infections that businesses have closed.

Deaths in Del Norte County from COVID-19 have more than doubled in recent weeks, from 10 on Aug. 15 to 22 on Friday. Four people died in a single day, officials said.

A year and a half into the pandemic — and eight months since highly effective vaccines became available — COVID-19 is surging across rural California, where inoculation rates are low, more intensely than it ever has before.

Del Norte County health officials believe there is an undercount in the number of people who have died from COVID-19 and that some never made it to the hospital. The coroner is investigating.

“This has been our worst fear,” State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who represents seven counties stretching from Marin to Del Norte, told the Los Angeles Times. “We saw significant surges in urban areas in this state early on. Now, rural California is the epicentre for this pandemic.”

12:57 p.m.: Quebec is reporting 604 new cases of COVID-19 today, but no additional deaths attributed to the virus.

The number marks the third consecutive day that the province has logged more than 600 new daily infections.

Public health data shows hospitalizations rose by five to 131, while the number of people in intensive care rose by two for a total of 38.

Health authorities say 27.7 per cent of the new cases were among those who were not vaccinated or had received only one dose in the past two weeks.

12:14 p.m.: A new report from Russia’s state statistics agency shows the country recorded a record number of deaths in July of people infected with coronavirus.

The report from the Rosstat agency said 50,421 people suffering from COVID-19 died during the month, sharply higher than the previous record of 44,435 in December.

However, the agency said in the report that only 38,992 deaths were directly attributed to the disease. In another 5,206 deaths, the virus was assessed as likely the main cause but that more investigation would be need; in 1,449 other cases, the virus contributed to the deaths but was not the main cause.

Rosstat said the other 4,844 deaths of infected people were not connected to the virus.

10:15 a.m.: Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said Saturday that there are 835 new COVID-19 cases in the province — 675 cases of individuals who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status, and 160 who are fully vaccinated individuals.

Elliott tweeted that 162 people are in ICU due, almost all — 154 — of whom are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and eight are fully vaccinated.

In Ontario, 20,679,316 vaccine doses have been administered, Elliott said. Roughly 82.7 per cent of Ontarians 12 years of age and up have one dose and nearly 75.9 per cent have two doses.

10:12 a.m.: Canada’s ban on direct flights from India – announced April 22 as India experienced a massive surge of COVID-19 cases, and extended again this month – has meant international students have had to plot complex travel itineraries, shoulder the cost of an extended journey, and deal with the uncertainty that comes with obtaining a COVID-19 test in a third country.

For Sayana Sherif, securing such a test at an airport in Egypt while en route to Canada was one of the most challenging parts of her journey.

“The whole procedure was completely disorganized,” she said. “Passengers had to take charge, organize ourselves, collect the money for the test in groups and facilitate the whole administrative procedure pre-test by ourselves.”

9:20 a.m.: The rancorous debate in the U.S. over whether returning students should wear masks in the classroom has moved from school boards to courtrooms.

In at least 14 states, lawsuits have been filed either for or against masks in schools. In some cases, normally rule-enforcing school administrators are finding themselves fighting state leaders in the name of keeping kids safe.

Legal experts say that while state laws normally trump local control, legal arguments from mask proponents have a good chance of coming out on top. But amid protests and even violence over masks around the United States, the court battle is just beginning.

Mask rules in public schools vary widely. Some states require them; others ban mandates. Many more leave it up to individual districts.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending universal mask wearing in schools. Students age 12 and younger remain ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

8 a.m.: Alberta reported 1,168 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, for a total of 9,655 actives province-wide, as well as five deaths over a 24-hour period. Alberta has recorded more than 1,000 new cases each day for the last three days and currently leads the country in new daily and active cases.

The province has about 34 per cent of the total active cases in Canada, with about 11 per cent of the country’s population. And it has the highest daily case count since the third wave in May, when Alberta not only led the country in the number of active cases but also had the highest rate per capita on the continent.

“Every single time in previous waves, in the second wave and then the third wave, front-line health-care workers have raised the alarm bell and said this is not looking good, we need to do something, and every single time the government dragged their feet and delayed putting measures in place to the point where we’re the worst (province) in Canada … again,” Mithani said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Omar Mosleh.

6:15 a.m.: With less than two weeks before school starts, the province has updated its school screening guidelines for those returning to the classrooms on Friday. The most noticeable change is that symptoms like runny noses and headaches are no longer included in the list of possible COVID-19 symptoms for returning students.

Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer at Toronto Public Health, reviewed the updated provincial guidelines and said for now, the city will be “consistent” with the province, but may impose other screening tools if cases in Toronto continue to go up.

“Symptoms like runny noses, headaches and sore throats could be COVID but it could be other things,” she said, giving examples like allergies or coming in from the cold.

“They have less of a positive predictive value, but we think more people with COVID have coughs and troubled breathing. The other piece is that in children, maybe 30 per cent are asymptomatic so the screening tool is important. If you have symptoms, stay home and get tested, but it’s also about wearing a mask, staying your distance, that adds up.”

The screening form lists the following symptoms: Fever and/or chills; coughing or barking cough (croup); shortness of breath; decrease or loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Read more from the Star’s Karon Liu.

5:30 a.m.: From the Great Wall to the picturesque Kashmir valley, Asia’s tourist destinations are looking to domestic visitors to get them through the COVID-19 pandemic’s second year.

With international travel heavily restricted, foreign tourists can’t enter many countries and locals can’t get out. In the metropolis of Hong Kong, glamping and staycations have replaced trips abroad for at least some of its 7.4 million residents.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, international tourist arrivals were down 95% in the first five months of the year, compared to the same period before the pandemic in 2019, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization.

New variants of the virus loom — a constant threat to any recovery in even domestic tourism. Warnings of a possible third wave in India worry Imraan Ali, whose houseboat on Kashmir’s Dal Lake is his only source of income.

“Since we are expecting a good influx of tourists, we don’t want that to be affected,” he said.

4:45 a.m.: Premier Doug Ford is reversing course and bringing a COVID-19 vaccination passport system to Ontario in hopes of avoiding another round of restrictions and lockdowns as new cases continue to rise, the Star has learned.

“The guidance will be clear. In order to access some non-essential services and events you will have to be vaccinated,” a senior government source said Friday.

The passports are expected to be used for indoor restaurant dining, gyms, theatres, concert venues and sporting events.

No specific date has been set for the system to go into effect, but the goal is to have it ready “within weeks,” added the source, speaking anonymously to discuss internal deliberations.

“The primary reason for these new measures is to ensure we don’t need to shut down the Ontario economy during the fourth wave.”

Read more from the Star’s Rob Ferguson.

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