Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Tag: COVID-19

The ‘Better’ Vaccine

Last spring people were turning down the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine because they thought the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine was better. Fun fact: no. A recent study suggests that Moderna may actually be a bit more effective, though the reason—differences in which populations were vaccinated with which vaccines, Moderna’s larger and more spaced-out doses—hasn’t been nailed down. Thing is, both vaccines are more than good enough, and at a population level (which is the level at which public health operates, but is hard for individuals to relate to) we’re much better off having more vaccines in more arms than better vaccines in fewer arms—especially if the differences are this slight.

Full disclosure: I got the Moderna vaccine, and I refuse to be smug about it; it’s what was available.

We’re a Little Behind on Vaccination

The good news in the Pontiac is that there hasn’t been a single new case reported here since the 18th. The less good news is that our vaccination rates could be a bit better. The Outaouais in general lags behind Quebec: only 66.3 percent have received at least one dose as of yesterday. Compare that to 71 percent of the entire Quebec population, or 80 percent of those 12 and up (who can actually get vaccinated right now).

Here in the Pontiac, only five municipalities have vaccination rates greater than the regional rate of 66.3 percent: Île-du-Grand-Calumet, Bristol, Thorne, Clarendon and Otter Lake range from 72.1 percent to 69.4 percent. Two small municipalities—Chichester and Waltham—have rates under 50 percent. The larger municipalities are in the high fifties and low sixties: Fort-Coulonge is 59.5 percent, Shawville is at 61.6 percent, and Mansfield-et-Pontefract is at 66 percent. Pontiac-the-Municipality, which if you remember is not part of the Pontiac MRC, is at 60.9 percent. Gatineau, for comparison, is at 64.1 percent.

The Situation Is Much Improved

The COVID-19 situation in the Pontiac is much improved, with five or fewer active cases at the moment and no new cases reported anywhere since last Friday. The outbreak we were dealing with in April was more or less brought under control in May, though there was a bit of a rebound in the Bryson/Campbell’s Bay/Fort-Coulonge corridor. Shawville itself hasn’t had a new case reported since June 7—and that case was the first new case in a month. To date, a total of 393 cases have been reported in the Pontiac RLS: 265 in the Pontiac MRC and 128 in the Municipality of Pontiac (which is, remember, not in the Pontiac MRC).

56.4 Percent and Rising

Local radio station CHIP-FM reports that 56.4 percent of the Pontiac’s1 population aged 18 and older has received at least one vaccine dose. The vaccination rate is even higher in age brackets 55 and up (who’ve had more time to get a jab); it’s over 90 percent for people aged 65 to 75, for example. Progress!

The Situation Is Improving

Since I posted two weeks ago that we weren’t doing that well out here COVID-wise, I thought I’d mention that things are now looking a bit better. We only had 14 new cases over the past week, compared to 51 new cases two weeks ago. Almost all of those new cases—11 out of 14—are in the Fort-Coulonge/Mansfield area, whose local outbreak may actually be showing signs of running out of steam. Shawville hasn’t had a new case in a week, Campbell’s Bay longer than that. The special emergency measures come to an end on the 17th, as they do for the rest of the Outaouais, at which point we’re back in the red zone.

The Pandemic Comes to the Pontiac

Having spared us during the first wave—during which we were behind police checkpoints that turned back non-essential traffic—and being under relatively good control during the second, COVID-19 has just erupted in the Pontiac MRC during the third wave. In the space of one month the number of people who have tested positive has more than quadrupled, from 39 on March 25 to 173 today.1 This is mainly due to a major outbreak in the Fort-Coulonge area: Fort-Coulonge went from fewer than 5 cases2 to 34; Mansfield-et-Pontefract from 7 to 64. Together they make up more than half the cases in the Pontiac MRC while comprising only a quarter of the population.

These numbers may not seem like a lot—a total of 1.2 percent of the Pontiac MRC’s population has tested positive for COVID as of today, compared to Gatineau’s 3.2 percent or Quebec’s 4 percent, and with our small population (14,251 according to the 2016 census) the raw numbers are pretty small in comparison. But to reiterate: more than three-quarters of the our total COVID cases have come just in the past month. Cases are increasing by 30 percent a week—and 30 percent of this week’s numbers is a lot more than 30 percent of a month ago. This is how exponential growth works.

Meanwhile, last Friday the Pontiac Hospital—the front door of which is less than 300 metres from my home—reported an outbreak in its acute care ward: nine patients and three staff members tested positive initially; that number has since risen to 17 patients and 13 staff. For context, the ward has 34 beds. Fortunately some have been vaccinated, and some have tested positive without showing symptoms, so this may turn out to be the best possible version of the worst possible scenario. But still: the whole point of last year’s checkpoints was not only to keep COVID out of our community (which tends older and in poorer health than the Canadian average); it was to keep it out of our hospital.

So yeah. We could be doing better out here.

Does the Exposure Notification System Work?

“I didn’t intentionally get infected with COVID-19 just to figure out whether Apple’s exposure notification system was working, but it ended up that my experience might offer some additional insight to the situation.” Daniel Eran Dilger’s long and discursive piece for AppleInsider on whether Apple’s COVID-19 exposure tracking is working kind of buries the lede: he got the dubious opportunity to try it out, as implemented in Germany and Switzerland. It wasn’t as flawless or as seamless as you might have hoped. “Over a week later, neither Germany nor Switzerland has used my positive test result to send warnings through the system Apple created. That’s important because the timing of exposure notifications have a very limited useful window. By the time I got a positive result, I likely wasn’t even contagious any more.”

The COVID Alert App and Privacy Panic

COVID Alert app

We’ve both installed the COVID Alert app, even though it’s not fully functional in our province (so far it’s just Ontario). We can’t report a COVID diagnosis, but we can get notified if someone from Ontario we’ve come into contact with does report a positive COVID test result. Since we live near the Ontario-Quebec border, and sometimes have to cross into Ontario for errands and such, there’s already some value in installing it.

The app is available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

It can’t run on older phones (on the Apple side, older than an iPhone 6S or first-gen SE) because of hardware limitations, I believe. It makes use of the Apple/Google API, which has strong privacy protections: the only things it shares with the server or with other phones are anonymous tokens. The privacy protections are such that Michael Geist is comfortable installing it, which is something.

It’s in that context that I have to look really sideways at a CBC article that suggests that some people could be identified by the COVID Alert app.

The Rise and Fall of Pandemic Baking

There was a point during the lockdown where it seemed like sourdough culture was propagating faster than SARS-CoV-2, and you couldn’t find yeast or flour on the shelves for love nor money. (We had to go through a restaurant.) That seems to have abated now. The Cut explores the rise—and fall—of pandemic baking. “The height of sourdough mania crested before Memorial Day, when one national emergency—the COVID-19 pandemic—was met by another, the police brutality and systemic racism brought to the fore by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The privileged lifestyle cosiness of home baking then seemed a pale crutch. The Instagrammed loaves disappeared. The mood is more urgent now; those stuck at home have forcefully, passionately wrenched themselves unstuck. Sourdough can’t save a nation, and it can’t distract it indefinitely, either.”

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