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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 821 new cases of COVID-19; Social media strategies played important role in pandemic election, experts say – Toronto Star

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.

11:38 a.m.: South Carolina is setting records for COVID-19 hospitalizations, and new cases are approaching the peak levels of last winter.

Since ending South Carolina’s state of emergency on June 7, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has maintained that parents alone should decide if children wear masks in schools, even as the state’s new cases soared from 150 a day on average to more than 5,000.

Now teachers, students and parents are struggling with the fallout as more young people contract the delta variant, forcing nearly two dozen schools and two entire districts back to online learning within a month of returning in person.

State health and education officials say the statewide mask ban in schools took away one of their best tools to stop the spread of COVID-19. The state hit nearly 2,600 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in early September, a record.

“We spiked the football too early. Instead of continuing to listen to medical professionals and interpreting the data, he has been guided by Republican Governors Association talking points,” Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston said.

Some lawmakers from both parties are pushing for a special session to repeal the rule and allow local governments to make decisions. The state Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit over whether the mask provision is legal.

11:37 a.m.: Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative premier has asked people who protested proof-of-vaccination policies outside the home of the province’s chief medical officer of health to consider acting more like adults.

Tim Houston released a video message over social media on Friday night about the small protest outside the Halifax home of Dr. Robert Strang earlier in the day.

Houston says he would encourage those who carried out the protests to “grow up and think of others,” and that there’s no language tough enough to describe how upset he is with the actions.

The premier added he believes in the right to free speech and protest, but venues like the legislature or his office in downtown Halifax are locations for demonstrations rather than the private homes of public servants.

11:35 a.m.: From seeing stars moved to tears in connecting with audiences, to the transparent handling of a COVID-19 case, the Toronto International Film Festival co-heads say they feel this year’s hybrid pandemic showcase was successful and safe.

Co-head and executive director Joana Vicente says she’s proud of their team for pulling off the biggest cultural event in the city — one with red carpets and a mix of in-person and digital screenings — since the first pandemic lockdown a year and a half ago.

Co-head and artistic director Cameron Bailey says filmmakers told them they were “amazed and so thankful” the 10-day festival ending tonight was able to hold indoor events at big venues again.

Anyone entering TIFF venues had to wear masks, socially distance and show proof they had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or present a negative test taken within 48 hours before entry.

On Thursday, the festival warned attendees of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in an audience member, noting it was “low risk” due to “strictly enforced COVID protocols in place at all TIFF venues.”

Vicente says it was “one isolated case” in a person who was at four press and industry screenings, and the festival informed everyone who was affected.

11 a.m.: Ontario is reporting another 821 COVID-19 cases and 10 more deaths, according to its latest report released Saturday morning.

Ontario has administered 39,210 vaccine doses since its last daily update, with 21,357,675 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night.

According to the Star’s vaccine tracker, 11,077,105 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 85.0 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 74.5 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The province says 10,280,570 people have completed their vaccinations, which means they’ve had both doses. That works out to approximately 78.9 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 69.2 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The province now includes data that reflects hospitalizations and cases by vaccination status. Ontario warns that the new process may cause discrepancies between other hospitalization numbers being collected using a different process, and that the data may not match daily COVID-19 case counts.

The province reports 621 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in people who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 200 cases in fully vaccinated people. Again, the province warns the data may not match daily COVID case counts because records with a missing or invalid health card number can’t be linked.

The province says 30,716 tests were completed the previous day, and a 2.5 per cent positivity rate.

Read the full story from the Star’s Joshua Chong here.

10:15 a.m.: Ontario reporting 821 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday. Of those cases, 621 are in individuals who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 200 are in fully vaccinated individuals.

9:01 a.m.: A troubling Statistics Canada report last month may indicate that the country’s economy has already entered a chilly fall.

StatCan attributed the drop to declines in home resale and exports. But experts say the second-quarter dive into negative economic growth may have little to do with a cooling housing market, which remains in sunny summer territory.

“The best way to put this is think of it like a hot summer day versus a sweltering summer day,” says mortgage industry specialist Leah Zlatkin.

“So it had been a sweltering summer (in the first quarter) when it comes to real estate, and now quarter two was a hot summer day,” says Zlatkin, the principal broker at Toronto’s Brite Mortgage.

The unexpected downturn — which saw gross domestic product contract at an annualized rate of 1.1 per cent from April to June — could change everything from Canada’s economic recovery to the results of the upcoming federal election, with affordability a key election point.

Read the full story from Joseph Hall.

9 a.m.: As Alberta’s heath-care system faces collapse, one ICU doctor is taking his battle outside the hospital’s walls

Dr. Darren Markland is sad and frustrated even as he devotes more time to caring for COVID patients. But “never did I think people would be mad at me” for doing my job.

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

8:59 a.m.: If there’s one thing that’s true about how many people need to get a COVID-19 vaccine to protect us all, it’s this: The goalposts have changed in 2021.

Early in the pandemic, top scientists at the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S., said between 60 and 70 per cent of the population must acquire resistance to the virus — either through vaccination or infection — for life to return to some degree of “normality.”

But now, as the fourth wave bears down and the highly-transmissible Delta variant has muscled out all other strains to become dominant, those numbers are far less reliable. And what the new threshold should be is less than clear as experts wrestle with what will be enough protection to stave off Delta.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kenyon Wallace.

8:58 a.m.: Just one month ago, President Joe Biden and his health advisers announced big plans to soon deliver a booster shot of the coronavirus vaccine to all Americans. But after campaigning for the White House on a pledge to “follow the science,” Biden found himself uncharacteristically ahead of it with that lofty pronouncement.

Some of nation’s top medical advisers on Friday delivered a stinging rebuke of the idea, in essence telling the White House: not so fast.

A key government advisory panel overwhelmingly rejected Biden’s plan to give COVID-19 booster shots across the board and instead recommended the extra vaccine dose only for those who are age 65 or older or who run a high risk of severe disease.

Biden’s Aug. 18 announcement that the federal government was preparing to shore up nearly all Americans’ protection had been made with great fanfare. It was meant to calm the nerves of millions of Americans fearful of a new, more transmissible strain of the coronavirus.

“The plan is for every adult to get a booster shot eight months after you got your second shot,” Biden said, noting that his administration would be ready to begin the program on Sept. 20.

Biden added the qualification that third doses would require the signoff of health officials at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but his public message glossed over the nuance.

“Just remember,” he said, “as a simple rule: Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot.”

8:58 a.m.: Military leaders on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson have declared a public health emergency in response to increasing COVID-19 cases in Alaska.

They also encouraged all personnel to avoid places that do not require masks or social distancing, officials said.

U.S. Air Force Col. Kirsten Aguilar said Friday that the declaration will remain in effect for 30 days, but could be shortened or extended based on cases and community transmission of COVID-19.

Hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases across the state have increased as a result of the highly contagious Delta variant. Alaska on Friday reported more than 1,200 newly confirmed cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks.

8:57 a.m.: Police used pepper spray to subdue protesters Saturday at an anti-lockdown rally in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city.

About 1,000 demonstrators gathered in the suburb of Richmond after the location of the protest was changed at the last minute to evade authorities.

There were minor scuffles as well as a violent confrontation involving a handful of protesters. Several protesters were arrested.

Most of the demonstrators defied regulations by failing to wear masks.

Some 2,000 police officers were deployed at road checkpoints and barricades, and on roving patrols, to try to stop the rally going ahead in breach of public health orders.

Melbourne’s 6th lockdown began on Aug. 5. Melbourne is the capital of Victoria state, which on Saturday reported 535 new infections and one COVID-19 death in the latest 24-hour period.

8:57 a.m.: India gave out 25 million doses during a special COVID-19 vaccination drive organized on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday.

The campaign took place Friday as Modi turned 71. The Health Ministry said Saturday the special drive had raised India’s overall vaccinations to more than 790 million.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya called the feat “ a golden chapter … written in the history of the country and the world.”

Only China has administered more. The Chinese government said this week it had given more than 2.16 billion shots and that 1 billion Chinese people were fully vaccinated.

India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, has given at least one dose to more than 62% of eligible adults and two doses to about 21%. Health Ministry officials say they plan to administer over a billion shots by mid-October.

India has reported more than 33 million coronavirus cases and 444,529 deaths. The country is recording over 30,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

8:56 a.m.: More than three-quarters of Quebecers support mandatory vaccination for health-care workers, according to a new Leger poll, which also found strong support for vaccine passports across the country.

Seventy-six per cent of survey respondents in Quebec said they support mandatory vaccination for health-care workers, including 57 per cent who said they strongly support the mandate.

Health-care workers in Quebec have until Oct. 15 to get two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or risk being suspended without pay.

Respondents 55 and over were the most likely to support the mandate, with 89 per cent in favour, while respondents 18 to 34 were the least supportive, with 36 per cent saying they oppose it. Support was strongest in urban areas, where there was 82 per cent approval, compared with 63 per cent in rural Quebec.

Outside the province, 75 per cent of respondents said they approve of mandatory vaccination for health-care workers, with the strongest support in Atlantic Canada (83 per cent) and British Columbia (82 per cent). Albertans were the least likely to support the mandate, with 65 per cent saying they’re in favour of it.

The survey, conducted in collaboration with The Canadian Press and the Association for Canadian Studies, also found strong support for vaccine passports across the country, with 79 per cent of respondents in favour. Seven provinces require, or currently plan to require, people to show proof of vaccination to access certain non-essential activities and services.

7:50 a.m.: During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been spending even more time on their social media and all the political parties are hoping to take advantage to tap directly into their voter base. But just because someone likes or shares a political post doesn’t necessarily translate at the polls.

Experts across the country are watching to see which party’s social media strategy paid off the most on election day.

Half of Canadians, regardless of age, use Facebook weekly to get news on current events and politics, said Oksana Kishchuk, a consultant with Abacus Data.

Social media has become a vital player in building support. It’s not just about posting either, she said, as parties have to consider good photos, snappy clips and current trends.

“Mastering these techniques will be important,” Kishchuk said.

As election day comes closer, she says all three main parties are taking the strategy of “target and spend.” In the last week or so, each has spent $400,000 to $600,000 on advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. The Liberals and NDP are using that cash to share messages focusing mainly on their own strengths, while the Conservatives have put a focus on Justin Trudeau, she said.

The most recent polling by Abacus shows Liberals in the lead with their social media strategy, Kishchuk said, but impressions of Singh and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole rose significantly during the election.