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Ontario and Quebec schools shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks



Staff stand outside Herzliah High School in Montreal on Sept. 17, 2020.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The first two Canadian schools shut down because of COVID-19 demonstrate how the public health decisions to close them are a science that is not always exact.

Regional health officials in Pembroke, Ont., this week closed Fellowes High School after three staff members became infected, and at least one of them was known to have mingled among three classes. About 800 students and staff stayed home on Thursday while at least 90 students and about 50 staff were to be tested. No students had tested positive by Friday.

Quebec has had at least a dozen similar-scale outbreaks and several larger ones, but it opted to send classes home rather than close entire schools, until it shut down its first school late this week.

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Montreal’s Herzliah High School was closed on Thursday after at least 15 students and one employee tested positive for COVID-19. One class had eight cases while the others were scattered among different cohorts.

Public health officials in the two provinces were also taking different approaches to the timeline for reopening the schools. In Pembroke, public health officials said Fellowes students could return next week if the outbreak is contained. The shutdown may last just a few school days.

Robert Cushman, acting Medical Officer for Renfrew County and District Health, said closing the school is a preventive measure “to catch up and get ahead of it. Our goal is to lose four or five days of school rather than four or five weeks.”

In Montreal, officials extended the standard 14-day quarantine for the private Jewish school to Oct. 5 to account for family contacts that may take place during high holy days.

“The case of this school is complex,” said Mylène Drouin, Montreal’s Director of Public Health. “I would say the outbreak is controlled, but the other sporadic school cases coming from the community, the high level of incidence in that Côte-Saint-Luc neighbourhood, the context of the Jewish holy days starting, made it all seem judicious to move online.”

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All the provinces have different return-to-class and shut-down protocols, and have set different paces for reopening, and they are getting hit by school infections at different times.

Alberta on Friday reported its first case of transmission from one person to another within a school. Edmonton’s Waverley School will remain open while 12 students and seven staff are in isolation.

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Alberta’s Medical Health Officer, Deena Hinshaw, said protocols at Waverley School have not been changed as a result of the cases, and there is no reason to believe anyone else in the school is at risk. She said in-school transmission was inevitable and the public health measures currently in place are designed to minimize the chance of that happening.

“However, younger children need to interact with each other in a way that is less formal, perhaps, than adults, so as with anything else, it’s a balance,” she said during a news conference on Friday.

Most schools in Alberta resumed classes during the week of Aug. 31. Since then, the province has confirmed 78 cases at 57 schools. The province has more than 2,000 schools.

Ontario had 72 cases in 60 schools, including Fellowes, as of Friday. Quebec, where most kids went back to school on Aug. 27, has had 507 cases in 272 schools. While only Herzliah was closed, health officials have sent home 189 classes.

Parents at the closed schools in Ontario and Quebec seemed to take the matter in stride.

Derrick Nearing said his Grade 12 daughter, Hannah, and Grade 10 son, Reilly, were both thrilled to return for the week classes were in at Fellowes, and disappointed to be sent home.

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“I think they’re going about things the right way, and I think most parents feel the same,” Mr. Nearing said. “Everybody’s doing their best. Nobody’s been through this before.”

Mr. Nearing said Hannah is a top student, so he’s not too worried about her moving to online learning for a few days. The return to school was a balm for Reilly, who is in a special-needs class for autism. “He really needed to get back to school. The six months off was very isolating,” Mr. Nearing said. “Hopefully, he can get back to his routine quickly.”

Guilda Benhamou drove to Herzliah with her Grade 10 son to collect his books on Thursday. Both said the school and public health officials are taking a prudent course. Ms. Benhamou told CTV she hopes the closing is a warning to others who “have forgotten COVID-19 exists.” Her son said he has trouble concentrating with online learning, but the closing was the right move.

Public health officials have stressed the key to protecting schools is preventing community spread.

Dr. Cushman said he suspects the Fellowes outbreak originated in a commercial gym. The three infected school staffers each had common pre-existing conditions, including chronic headaches and seasonal allergies, which may have masked COVID-19 symptoms. “This is why these people were continuing to work, unfortunately,” Dr. Cushman said. “What bad luck.”

Dr. Drouin said the “principal source of these cases was the community, the acquisition of the virus was in the community.” She and other Quebec health and education officials continued to stress this week that schools are safe.

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With a report from James Keller in Calgary

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Thanksgiving, large gatherings to blame for surge in COVID-19 cases in Ontario, officials say




As Ontario saw record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases over the weekend, health officials on Monday are putting some of the blame on large gatherings that may have taken place over Thanksgiving two weeks ago. 

In York Region, 16 people, including three infants, are believed to have contracted the novel coronavirus following a Thanksgiving gathering. 

Three families gathered at a home in Vaughan over a span of two weeks around the Thanksgiving weekend.

At least one person attended despite having mild symptoms. 

One family member then went to work while symptomatic and infected two additional individuals. 

“Every time we socialize with anyone beyond our immediate household, there’s a risk that we enter into,” said Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s medical officer of health. 

“This particular cluster illustrates that sort of a risk.”

In the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Health Minister Christine Elliott pointed at Thanksgiving gatherings as one of the factors for the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. 

“We are also starting to see some of the numbers go down in some of the modified areas but because of the impacts of Thanksgiving, we’re not seeing that happening quite as quickly as we’d like to,” Elliott said.

Weddings, religious service exempt from provincial gathering limits

This past weekend, nearly 100 people, many without masks, congregated outside a Toronto church for a wedding on Saturday. 

A woman, whose identity CBC News agreed to protect because she fears repercussions from the community, was passing by when she saw the gathering and spoke out.

“It was wrong,” said the woman.

“It was going against everything we’re being asked to do right now and it gives the impression that what they’re doing matters more than keeping the rest of the people safe,” she said. 

Ontario has restricted gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors in areas that are in Stage 2 — Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa.

But religious services, like weddings — even in hotspots like Toronto — are exempt, as long as the venue is at less than 30 per cent capacity. 

In a briefing Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the rules may need to be changed.

“I think we have to take another look at those regulations,” he said. 

“Any large gathering, no matter how careful you are, has a certain risk associated with it.”

PC MPP under fire for maskless photo at indoor gathering

Meanwhile, a Progressive Conservative MPP is under fire for not wearing a mask while posing for a group photo.

Sam Oosterhoff posted the picture on social media over the weekend but later deleted it. 

“I think it was shocking,” said Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca on Monday. 

“I think it was inappropriate and I think there definitely needs to be consequences for Mr. Oosterhoff.”

Oosterhoff, who is also the parliamentary assistant to the education minister, apologized for the picture, saying he should have worn a mask when taking the photo, given the proximity of the people around him.

Critics have called for his resignation, saying he was not following his government’s pandemic guidance. 

In the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Premier Doug Ford said that’s not going to happen. 

“Hey guys, everyone makes mistakes,” said Ford. 

“I have 100 per cent confidence in Sam. He does a great job representing his area. People love him out there and he came out and apologized.”

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‘A community champion,’ philanthropist and former Ticats owner, David Braley dies at 79




Hamilton is mourning the loss of David Braley, a former owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with three decades of success in the Canadian Football League, a supporter of sport in the city, and an honoured philanthropist. 

Braley, who had owned the BC Lions since 1997, passed away in his Burlington, Ont. home at age 79, says a media release from the team.  

In a tweet, Mayor of Hamilton Fred Eisenberger called Braley a “community champion.”

“David Braley’s contributions live on and continue to make our city a better place,” he wrote. “His passion for community, arts & sport was immeasurable.”

He also journeyed into politics, when former Prime Minster Stephen Harper appointed Braley to the Canadian Senate in 2010, where he served for nearly three years. 

He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2019 “for his contributions to the Canadian Football League, and for his entrepreneurial and philanthropic leadership in his community.” 

His philanthropy was remembered in a tweet Monday from Hamilton Health Sciences which said “We are profoundly saddened by the passing of David Braley. He was a champion for the people of Hamilton and contributed so much to improving medical education and research to the benefit of the global community.”

In a media release Bob Young, caretaker of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, said “I and the Tiger-Cats mourn David’s passing. He was an enthusiastic Hamiltonian and a wonderful benefactor to our community’s hospitals and universities. The CFL and Hamilton communities have lost a great leader and champion today.”

The first team Braley owned in the Canadian Football League (CFL) was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1989 to 1992, when it returned to community ownership.

During his first season of ownership, the Ticats went to the Grey Cup.

“While David was well known for his role with the BC Lions, he was also always, at heart, a Ticat fan. Our sincerest condolences go out to David’s family, and his wide circle of friends and admirers across our community,” said Young. 

Braley went on to collect four Grey Cups during his time as an owner in the CFL. Three of them were with the BC Lions, and his last was with the Toronto Argonauts, which he owned from 2010 to 2015.

The Argonauts won the 100th Grey Cup in 2012. 

He also acted as chairman of the CFL’s Board of Governors and served as an interim commissioner from March to November in 2002. 

Braley was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (2012), McMaster Sports Hall of Fame (2007) and Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame (2006).

Tributes to man whose name adorns buildings across the city are being posted on social media. 

Along with contributions to football, Braley championed sport in Hamilton by helping to bring the World Cycling Championships to the city in 2012. 

He was also part of southern Ontario’s successful bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games, which saw Tim Hortons Field host all 32 soccer matches. 

“David Braley…was our champion in every sense of the word,” said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie in a statement. 

“David didn’t just talk about this idea. He lived it. An owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, as well as the Argos and Lions, he often stepped in to sustain and turn around franchises when they needed him the most.”

Braley was born in Montreal in 1941, but moved to Hamilton two years later. The Ticats say he discovered his true passion for football after attending his first Tiger-Cats game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. 

He played high school football at Westdale Secondary School, studied sciences at McMaster University, and worked with General Motors Acceptance Corporation in Hamilton and then with London Life Insurance.

In 1969, he purchased William Orlick Industries, which is now known as Orlick Industries, and transformed it into a leading manufacture of aluminum die-cast auto parts that provided hundreds of jobs in the Hamilton area. 

Braley has donated over $125 million to various organizations, says the Ticats media release. 

From August 2006 to June 2007, he donated $50 million to McMaster’s medical school and another $5 million for the university’s athletic centre, which is named after him. 

Braley also gave $10 million to Hamilton Health Sciences for a new cardiac, vascular and research institute, also named after the philanthropist, and $5 million to St. Joseph’s Healthcare for operating rooms and kidney care. 

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