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Today’s coronavirus news: Texas sees deadliest week of the pandemic; Australia approves experimental drug to treat severe cases of COVID-19; Dozens of US Marines in Japan’s Okinawa get coronavirus

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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.

8:41 a.m.: Dozens of U.S. Marines have been infected with the coronavirus at two bases on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa in what is feared to be a massive outbreak, Okinawan officials said Saturday, demanding an adequate explanation from the U.S. military.

Okinawa prefectural officials said they could say only that a “few dozen” cases had been found recently because the U.S. military asked that the exact figure not be released. The outbreaks occurred at Marine Corps. Air Station Futenma, which is at the centre of a relocation dispute, and Camp Hansen, Okinawan officials said.

Local media, citing unnamed sources, said about 60 people had been infected.

“Okinawans are shocked by what we were told (by the U.S. military),” Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told a news conference. He questioned disease prevention measures taken by the U.S. military and renewed his demand for transparency regarding the latest development.

8:01 a.m.: “Working in an industry where you aren’t properly represented or embraced, there is always a constant fight. For me personally, I think the challenge I have felt is one that is mental,” Toronto-based fashion designer Spencer Badu says.

These are some of the lessons on how to be vulnerable, voice his emotions and find a larger purpose in his identity the 27-year-old has learned amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing global protests against anti-Black racism. “Internalizing and suppressing the trauma is part of the Black experience,” he adds.

He has to deal with both the feeling of sorrow and pain from seeing his Black brothers and sisters being killed on the streets and the feeling of pressure to be creative and constantly moving toward the future and trying to inspire change.

Another huge test in the recent months — the COVID-19 pandemic — which slowed down and shuttered businesses across the country. “I’ve been on a constant grind and the pace of fashion is ruthless. We’re a small team so the work can get really exhausting.”

Read the full story from the Star’s Evelyn Kwong on how a young Black fashion designer is channelling his energy into his craft amid a pandemic.

7:31 a.m.: On June 30, North York General Hospital marked a milestone: After 100 days there were no COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit.

That morning, staff gathered to quietly celebrate and reflect on the harrowing weeks of treating the sickest coronavirus patients. The hospital, at Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue East, was among the first in the GTA to see a wave of critically ill patients with the virus; at its peak, the community hospital had 12 COVID patients in its 21-bed ICU.

Now, during this lull, staff are taking some much-needed time off, though they are not letting down their guard. There are still six COVID patients in the hospital who could require intensive care, and they know new patients can be admitted any time.

Read the Star’s Megan Ogilvie’s latest on a hospital staff’s fear of a second wave of COVID-19.

7:19 a.m.: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says “things will get worse” in the state as more than 10,000 patients are now hospitalized with the coronavirus.

The deadliest week of the pandemic yet in Texas continued Friday with 95 new deaths.

On the Texas-Mexico border, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera says his rural community is trying to get a refrigerated trailer because the local funeral home can’t keep up with more than two bodies a day.

Texas members of Congress are asking the Trump administration for a field hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. They warn in a letter sent Friday to the health and human services secretary Azar that there is “no indication that case counts will level out soon.”

7:15 a.m.: Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has given provisional approval to the drug remdesivir, an experimental medicine that has shown promise in the recovery time of the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

The approval comes as Australia is seeing a sharp increase in coronavirus infections in the state of Victoria, which reported a record 288 new confirmed cases Friday.

Authorities say remdesivir will be available only to patients who are severely ill, require oxygen or high-level support to breathe, and are in hospital care. It is the only drug licensed by both the U.S. and the European Union as a treatment for people with severe illness from the coronavirus.

With a population of 26 million, Australia has recorded more than 9,000 coronavirus cases, with 107 deaths.

7:11 a.m.: South Korea has reported 35 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its caseload to 13,373 infections and 288 deaths.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday that 13 of the new cases were in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has been at the centre of a virus resurgence since late May.

Infections were also reported in other major cities such Daejeon and Gwangju, where patients have been tied to various places, including churches, a Buddhist temple, churches, nursing homes and a sauna.

Fifteen of the new cases were linked to international arrivals as the virus continues to spread in Asia, North America and elsewhere.

7:08 a.m.: New coronavirus cases have dropped sharply in China, and authorities are turning their attention to concerns that the virus could spread through imported food.

Those worries have risen since a June outbreak in Beijing that was linked to the city’s largest wholesale market.

Testing has been stepped up on incoming food shipments, and on Friday customs officials said they are halting imports from three Ecuadorian shrimp producers after tests showed the virus present in recent shipments.

Authorities say the coronavirus was detected on the outer packaging of the shipments July 3. The inner packaging and the shrimp themselves tested negative. Products from the three companies received after March 12 have been ordered to be returned or destroyed.

7:03 a.m.: India’s coronavirus cases have passed 800,000 with the biggest spike of 27,114 cases in the past 24 hours, causing nearly a dozen states to impose a partial lockdown in high-risk areas.

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The new confirmed cases took the national total to 820,916. The Health Ministry on Saturday also reported another 519 deaths for a total of 22,123.

A surge in infections saw the cases jumping from 600,000 to more than 800,000 in nine days. The ministry said the recovery rate was continuing to improve at more than 62%.

Eight of India’s 28 states, including the worst-hit Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and New Delhi, account for nearly 90% of all infections.

6:06 a.m.: At least two doctors in Syria’s opposition-held northwest have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a monitoring group Saturday, raising the total number of cases in the overcrowded rebel enclave to three.

The Syrian opposition and militant groups control the Idlib area, which is home to more than 3 million people, most of them displaced by the war and living in tent camps and overcrowded facilities. Local health facilities have been targeted in Syrian government attacks that have recently displaced nearly a further million people.

The Early Warning and Alert Response Network, which reports on the virus, said the two doctors had been in touch with patient zero, another doctor who works in a hospital in Idlib. The first case was reported on Thursday and the hospital where the doctor works has since suspended its operations and quarantined patients and support staff to carry out testing.

12:47 a.m.: In his push to get schools and colleges to reopen this fall, President Donald Trump is again taking aim at their finances, this time threatening their tax-exempt status.

Trump said on Twitter on Friday he was ordering the Treasury Department to re-examine the tax-exempt status of schools that he says provide “radical indoctrination” instead of education.

“Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education,” he tweeted. “Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!”

The Republican president did not explain what prompted the remark or which schools would be reviewed. But the threat is just one more that Trump has issued against schools as he ratchets up pressure to get them to open this fall. Twice this week Trump threatened to cut federal funding for schools that don’t reopen, including in an earlier tweet on Friday.

Friday 11:54 p.m.: Health officials are reporting eight cases of COVID-19 linked to public gatherings in Kelowna, British Columbia, during and around the Canada Day long weekend.

The Interior Health Authority says people who attended private gatherings, restaurants and bars from June 25 to July 6 in downtown and waterfront areas of the city may have been exposed to the illness.

Six of the eight cases are people who don’t live in the region and public health contact tracing is underway.

Officials are urging anyone who took part in such gatherings during this time period to closely monitor themselves for symptoms.

Friday 6 p.m.: Ontario’s regional health units are reporting 38,470 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, including 2,752 deaths, an increase of 118 cases since Thursday evening, according to the Star’s latest count.

The rate of new infections has fallen sharply in the province over the last two months and has remained low so far in July.

Over the last seven days, the province’s 34 health units have reported an average of 130 new infections per day, well down from a sustained peak of nearly 600 cases per day, seen in late April.

Friday’s low total included two days’ worth of data in Toronto, which nevertheless reported a low 42 new cases.

Starting this week, Toronto Public Health switched to reporting cases only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. As such, the provincewide count of COVID-19 cases reported each day is likely to be higher than typical on those days.

Another 10 new fatal cases were reported Thursday, seven in Toronto and one each in York, Waterloo and Niagara Regions. During the worst of the province’s epidemic, the health units reported as many as 94 deaths in a single day.

Earlier Friday, the province reported 117 patients are hospitalized, including 34, who are in an intensive care unit, of whom 24 are on a ventilator. These numbers are themselves near the lowest the province has reported since first publishing hospitalization data in early April.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths, 2,710, may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that, in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases. This means they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

Click here to read more of Friday’s coverage.



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Saskatoon businesswoman Heather Abbey won $21,500 US on Wheel of Fortune. Now people want her to pay her debts

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Heather Abbey, a controversial Indigenous entrepreneur from Saskatoon, appeared on a Halloween-themed episode of Wheel of Fortune Tuesday night and walked away with $21,500 US after solving a puzzle with the phrase, “The Horror, The Horror.”

Indigenous artists who watched the game show say the real horror is that Abbey still owes them thousands of dollars for a failed trade mission to Tokyo in July 2019, on top of the $62,000 of public money she owes Creative Saskatchewan, a provincial arts agency.

Abbey said she is making monthly instalment payments on her debt to Creative Saskatchewan. The arts agency confirmed that to CBC News.

But it’s little consolation to the artists who say they’re owed money. 

“It kind of drains me emotionally to see her doing things like [appearing on Wheel of Fortune] still with no remorse for the artists and entrepreneurs she used and harmed,” said Cree fashion designer Agnes Woodward, who lives in North Dakota, but is originally from Kawacatoose First Nation, about 115 kilometres north of Regina.

To take part in the trade mission, Woodward and her husband Whirlwind Bull, a painter, spent more than $6,000 on flights, hotel, food, transportation and a delegate fee of $400 each. The trip did not go as Abbey promised it would. Afterward Abbey sent the couple messages — provided to CBC News — in which she pledged to repay them $3,000.

“If you owe a lot of money to people and you’re on national TV? Like, she has no remorse and no conscience,” said Bull. 

Agnes Woodward and her husband, Whirlwind Bull, said they spent more than $6,000 on flights, hotels, food, transportation and a delegate fee of $400 each to go on a trade mission to Japan. They said they had no idea that trip organizer Heather Abbey received a substantial grant from the province of Saskatchewan for the trip. (Submitted by Agnes Woodward)

Bull said they paid $1,300 to cover hotel rooms, only to have Abbey check the Canadian delegation into a $20/night Airbnb at the last minute. CBC confirmed that a hotel in Tokyo is trying to collect $15,000 in cancellation and no-show fees after Abbey confirmed the group’s reservation just hours before arrival, but failed to show up.

Bull said he made a joke of Abbey’s appearance on the game show. ” ‘Oh good, now she’s going to pay us back.’ But I know she’s not going to.” 

Abbey was prepared for backlash

Abbey, a Cree woman from Little Pine First Nation, located 200 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, has won numerous awards and government grants for empowering Indigenous artists and for her much-lauded website Indig Inc., an e-commerce platform that allows Indigenous artists to sell their homemade products. It is now offline.

She now lives in West Hollywood, Calif., studies at Los Angeles Film School and delivers food part-time.

“I’m passionate about creating authentic Native American content for the big screen and the small screen,” she told Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak on the show.

In an article posted to West Hollywood Times, Abbey said she was hoping to win enough money to help pay for her education and take her family on a trip to Paris. 

WATCH | Heather Abbey’s Wheel of Fortune win:

Saskatoon entrepreneur Heather Abbey won $21,500 on Wheel of Fortune. In January she promised to repay Creative Saskatchewan $62,000 in grant money. 0:16

However, in an email to CBC News, Abbey said that when she receives her winnings, she will spend the money in three ways: repaying Indigenous delegates that weren’t able to attend the Tokyo trip, repaying Creative Saskatchewan and buying a new bed set for each of her two children.

“I knew that everything would flare up again if I made it on the game show, but I also knew it was an incredibly long shot in the first place — from application to audition to being selected onto the show to the actual game show itself!” she wrote.

“All in all though, I’m pretty proud of how I played, and that I have actual money coming to make my payments — delivering food isn’t exactly keeping me in the money!”

Government audit

After a CBC News investigation last year, Creative Saskatchewan decided to audit five projects undertaken by Abbey and her e-commerce company Indig Inc., that received more than $160,000 total in taxpayer money between 2015 and 2019. 

The audit concluded that Abbey met expectations for three grants — worth nearly $100,000 combined — that helped to fund, among other things, website design and training for Indigenous artists to create leather mittens and beaded earrings.

The two failed projects included a trade mission to Japan for Indigenous artists from Saskatchewan and a retail space for Indigenous artists in a Saskatoon shopping mall.

“I plan to repay every debt I have,” Abbey told CBC News in January, when asked about her outstanding debts.

Abbey also said none of her actions were malicious or fraudulent, rather that some business gambles didn’t pan out.

Abbey, who recently won big on Wheel of Fortune, said she made rookie mistakes when she organized a trade mission to Tokyo for Indigenous artists. (ABC TV)

Creative Saskatchewan spokesperson Craig Lederhouse said the arts agency has an agreement with Abbey to collect the money owed over time.

“To date, Ms. Abbey is honouring that agreement and has been making monthly payments,” he said. “Financial details of the agreement are confidential.”

Abbey has outstanding debts with more entities than the Saskatchewan government. Public records and court documents show two credit unions and two landlords are seeking $64,000 from Abbey for unpaid loans and rent.

Abbey told CBC in January that she plans to repay all her outstanding debts. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

Abbey still maintains that some of the delegates are also responsible for the lack of sales on the Tokyo trip, insisting they treated it like a “vacation.” A half dozen artists interviewed by CBC News deny that.

As for her life now, Abbey said, “after the storm comes the rainbow. Cliché, but true.”

“Last year I was cancelled, and in retrospect it was probably the best thing to ever happen to me,” she said. “Aside from these payments that I still plan to make, I’m free.

“So yeah, did last year destroy me? Hell yeah it did, but it also rebuilt me into someone that is stronger, and has even more empathy and life experience. Trying to better the world for a few people broke me completely, but it also gave way to being truly happy.”

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Premier Ford speaks as Ontario confirms 834 new COVID-19 cases

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Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to hold a news conference beginning at 1:30 p.m. at Queen’s Park. Ford’s office says he will be joined by several members of cabinet, including the ministers of municipal affairs and housing, long-term care, education and infrastructure. 

You can watch it live in this story.


Ontario reported another 834 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, driving the seven-day average up to a new high while the number of tests being processed stayed well below capacity for a third day. 

Consistent with recent months, most of the newly confirmed cases in today’s report were found in four public health units:

  • Toronto: 299
  • Peel Region: 186
  • York Region: 121
  • Ottawa: 76

The seven-day average of new daily cases, a measure that helps limit noise in the data to provide a clearer picture of longer-term trends, rose to 886. That’s the highest the average has been at any point in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario’s labs processed just 30,010 tests for the novel coronavirus, despite capacity for around 45,000 daily. 

The relatively low number of tests means there was, roughly, a 2.8 per cent positivity rate, down from yesterday’s record high of about 3.45 per cent but still above the threshold for serious concern (2.5 per cent), according to Ontario’s own public health standards.

More positively, however, after several consecutive days of a markedly lower number of samples being collected for processing, some 41,000 were taken since the last provincial update. That suggests that the level of tests being processed could potentially rebound by tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, the number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 stayed steady at 312. Those being treated in intensive care dropped by four down to 71, and the number of patients on ventilators fell slightly to 51.

Five more COVID-19-linked deaths were added to the province’s toll, which now stands at 3,108.

Ontario has now seen 72,885 confirmed cases of the illness since the first was reported on January 25. About 85 per cent of all cases were resolved.

There are currently 7,474 confirmed, active infections of the novel coronavirus provincewide, a new record high.

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health’s daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid lag times found in the provincial system.)

Ontario’s labs processed just over 30,000 tests, still well below the total capacity of about 45,000 daily. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

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CBU to honour Donald Marshall Jr. with new research centre

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A new research institute planned for Cape Breton University will honour the legacy of Donald Marshall Jr., who fought for the Indigenous right to fish for a moderate livelihood.

The Mi’kmaw man’s name has been invoked in recent weeks by Indigenous fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia who have launched self-regulated lobster fisheries. 

“I think it’s very timely in terms of the need for knowledge sharing, for advocacy and for action,” said Janice Tulk, a senior researcher in the university’s development department. 

The idea for the institute has been in the works for a couple of years, sparked by one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which emphasized the need for education about Indigenous law and Indigenous rights.

Donald Marshall Jr. addresses a crowd in Sydney, N.S., after leading a peaceful protest over Indigenous fishing rights, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2000. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

“We started thinking about what could we do at Cape Breton University that would respond to that call,” said Tulk, whose areas of expertise include Mi’kmaw history and culture, as well as Indigenous economic reconciliation.

Tulk said the university has partnered with Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaw communities over the past 40 years to provide higher education in a variety of fields, with the creation of Mi’kmaw studies programs, Mi’kmaw science programs and more recently, Indigenous business and mentorship programs. The university saw the research institute as a next opportunity, said Tulk.

‘I think it’s amazing’

Cape Breton University will work with members of the Marshall family over the coming months to solidify the vision for the institute.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Crystal Bernard, Donald Marshall Jr.’s daughter.

“We’re so humbled and honoured that they would do this for him, in his name. And I know he would be very proud, as well.”

The idea was made public Monday as the university unveiled plans for a proposed, $80-million Centre for Discovery and Innovation. The project has yet to receive funding, but should it go ahead, it will house the Marshall Institute.

“We need a space where community collaboration can occur,” said Tulk, noting the institute will proceed with or without the new building.

Janice Tulk’s expertise includes Mi’kmaw history and culture, as well as Indigenous tourism development and economic reconciliation. (cbu.ca)

That collaboration will involve university researchers, faculty members and students, as well as community members and organizations such as the Bras d’Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative and the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, as well as various levels of government.

“I think we’re going to have some really valuable conversations that will advance our understanding of environmental justice and Indigenous approaches to climate change, and hopefully start to make some progress on those things through those dialogues, through advocacy, through policy change,” said Tulk.

Asked what role the institute might play in situations such as the current unrest over the Indigenous moderate livelihood fishery in Nova Scotia, Tulk said it would serve to help educate people about treaties and Indigenous rights.

“I would imagine that there would be advocacy as well,” said Tulk. “Certainly the institute could play a role in bringing stakeholders together to have honest conversations and collaboratively come up with solutions.”

Bernard said she believes her father would be disappointed by the ongoing situation in southwest Nova Scotia.

“I think it would be very upsetting to him that we’re having to go through this again,” she said.

“On the other hand, I think he’d be on the front lines, fighting with our people, trying to get people to understand that the treaty rights are not up for debate.”

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