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OCTOBER 28, 2020 THE CMA FOUNDATION STAFF
A tablet, Internet access and a little technical support. It’s a simple combination, but one that is making a big difference to seniors who have been cut off from friends, family and activities during the pandemic.

“Getting them [low-income seniors] connected so they can contact their doctors, contact their families or banks, is really important to us,” said Joseph Silva, director of strategies and partnerships, community health and services with York Region. “They have been more isolated than a lot of seniors.”

In May 2020, the CMA Foundation pledged an unprecedented $10 million to help community recovery and stabilization efforts, through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations. Learn more.

In Ontario’s York Region, the $60,500 allocated through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations is targeting low-income seniors living in community housing. This fall, 31 seniors had tablets delivered to their door and technical support offered via video or phone.

“Ideally it would be great to send someone to their home and set it all up, but we’ve had to do it all virtually. It has required a lot more hours of support,” explained Silva. By March 2021, the program aims to enroll around 100 seniors.

“I was so intimidated by technology because I grew up in a time where we didn’t have it and I thought I would never learn … it’s amazing.” – Senior client

Helping seniors cope with loneliness addresses a critical need, Silva said. Social and physical distancing rules have led to the suspension of nearly all in-home services for seniors, putting them at risk of further isolation and deteriorating mental health.

“We appreciate the partnership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the CMA Foundation and just their willingness to consider some of these emerging needs,” he said.

He believes the program should be expanded in the future to help more seniors.

There is no going back, he added.

“Technology is so important to keep people connected, reduce isolation and help with well-being,” he said. “The seniors are so proud of themselves for being able to use this technology.”

Thanks to the program, seniors can have virtual consults with a doctor, or renew a prescription with a pharmacist. But it isn’t just for connecting seniors with health care providers or family members. It’s a way to connect seniors to each other, too.

The program — delivered by Human Endeavour, a Vaughan-based non-profit organization focused on improving socioeconomic and living conditions — includes games and fitness activities as a complement to the technical support. The wellness program offers more than 10 sessions to seniors weekly.

The success of the program will be measured through a survey examining three questions: whether seniors have improved access to health and community services, whether they contacted family and friends more frequently and whether they reported improved well-being.

Silva said connecting seniors to technology builds confidence.

“It’s not just dealing with the emergent issues now, like social isolation. It’s about the legacy we leave behind with the project.”

About the author(s)
The CMA Foundation staff
Originally established in 2005, the CMA Foundation is a registered charity, designated as a private foundation, whose sole member is the Canadian Medical Association. Its purpose is to provide impactful charitable giving to registered Canadian charities and qualified donees to further excellence in health care.



NHS Covid-19 App error ‘left thousands unaware they need to isolate’

The contact-tracing app was set at the wrong sensitivity level, meaning many users were not sent self-isolation alerts after they came into contact with infected people.

The error meant users whose “risk score” should have triggered an alert were not notified, The Sunday Times first reported.

The app, launched a month ago on 24 September, has been downloaded more than 19 million times. It was updated last week to improve accuracy and notifications which was “expected to increase the number of people asked to self-isolate by the app”.

Since its launch “shockingly low” numbers of people had been sent warnings about potential exposure to the virus, a government official told The Sunday Times.

The app uses Bluetooth to track time and distance between devices to determine a user’s risk. The technology should have been recognising if people had been in close enough proximity to be at risk of the virus, but was instead recording them as being too far away.

Last weeks update saw the risk threshold lowered to improve the apps accuracy and notifications, meaning more people would be notified if they had been exposed.

But the updates had been available before the apps launch in September, developers admitted in a blog post. It means the app could have been upgraded to be more accurate from the tested version in the Isle of Wight and London borough of Newham.

To accommodate a persons infectiousness, which is highest on the day they develop symptoms, the risk threshold was “due to be lowered” however “this change did not take place at that time” wrote Randeep Sidhu and Gaby Appleton, who are leading figures behind the app.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS Covid-19 app is the only app in the world using the latest Google Apple technology to better gauge distance to identify those most at risk, and is deemed ‘excellent’ by international standards.

“As previously published, we anticipate more app users who are at high risk of having caught the virus will receive a notification to self isolate, and that will be to everyone’s long term benefit by reducing the chances of those with the virus passing it onto others.”

It is not known how many people have been told to self-isolate through the app.

A bumpy road
The app has been plagued by problems since it was first reported NHSX were developing one in March.

Privacy concerns about the centralised approach originally taken saw the first version of the app, initially trialled in May, scrapped in June.

NHS Test and Trace, which by then had taken over the development of the app, confirmed it would instead be using Apple and Google’s APIs which were based on a decentralised approach – meaning data only ever passes between devices.

New trials of the app were launched in August before the app was officially launched in England and Wales in September – the last countries in the UK to have an app available.

But within days of its launch an urgent fix was needed when it was revealed thousands of test results could not be linked to the app.

Further updates were made last month to fix phantom messages telling people they had possible Covid-19 exposure that would disappear when the notification was opened.

Users said the messages were worrying and caused confusion over whether they had been exposed and needed to isolate or get a test.

Last week’s updates aimed to remove these notifications. A DHSC spokesperson confirmed official notifications from the app won’t disappear when a user clicks on them and will provide appropriate advice.

COVID-19 in B.C.: Exposure incidents at nine schools, four stores, one coffee shop, and more

B.C. has passed another milestone, as the cumulative number of COVID-19 infections exceeded the 9,000 case mark.

Although today’s new case count higher than yesterday’s, the number of active and monitored cases continue to decline and hospitalizations remain the same.

There’s one new healthcare outbreak; nine schools with exposure incidents; and a coffee shop, four stores, and four flights with confirmed cases.

In addition, the B.C. government announced today that, once again, the provincial state of emergency has been extended, this time until October 13.

Daily update: September 29

The new case count is back up over 100 again.

In today’s joint statement from B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Deputy Health Minister Stephen Brown, they confirmed 105 new cases (including three epi-linked cases) in B.C.

However, active cases continue to drop—down 34 cases from 1,302 cases yesterday to 1,268 active cases today.

The number of hospitalized cases—69 individuals—remains the same as yesterday, and 20 of these patients (two less than yesterday) are in intensive care units.

Public health is monitoring 3,337 people, which is 35 less people than yesterday.

No new community outbreaks have been declared but there is a new healthcare outbreak at Haro Park Centre (1233 Haro Street) in Vancouver’s West End. This longterm care facility was among the first few healthcare facilities that had an outbreak early in the pandemic.

Unfortunately, one individual has died in Fraser Health, raising the total number of fatalities to 234 people who have died during the pandemic from COVID-19.

A cumulative total of 9,013 cases have been confirmed in B.C. during the pandemic, which include:

  • 4,594 cases in Fraser Health;
  • 3,286 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
  • 206 in Island Health;
  • 531 in Interior Health;
  • 309 in Northern Health;
  • 87 people who live outside Canada.

A total of 7,485 people in B.C. have recovered from COVID-19.

School exposures

Several more schools have been added to exposure event lists by three health authorities. Interior Health didn’t add any new schools to its list and Island Health still hasn’t had any exposure incidents at its schools.

Vancouver Coastal Health has added four more schools with exposure incidents:

  • Vancouver Technical Secondary (2600 East Broadway) in Vancouver on September 21;
  • Elsie Roy Elementary (150 Drake Street) in Vancouver, from September 22 to 24;
  • B.C. Muslim School (12300 Blundell Road) in Richmond, from September 11 to 18;
  • Rockridge Secondary (5350 Headland Drive) in West Vancouver, from September 23 to 24;
  • Howe Sound Secondary (38430 Buckley Avenue) in Squamish, from September 21 to 25.

Fraser Health has added two schools in New Westminster to its list:

 Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary (1714 8th Avenue) from September 24 to 25;

 Queensborough Middle School (833 Salter Street) from September 21 to 22.

Northern Health has also added two schools:

  • Quesnel Junior Secondary, which previously had an exposure incident from September 10 to 11, in Quesnel has had a second exposure event from September 15 to 18;
  • David Hoy Elementary (Birch Street West at 4th Avenue West) in Fort St. James had an exposure incident from September 17 to 18.

Food and flights

Vancouver Coastal Health has listed Abruzzo Cappuccino Bar (1321 Commercial Drive) in Vancouver as having a potential COVID-19 exposure incident between 1 and 3 p.m. from September 23 to 26.

Loblaw announced that employees have tested positive at the following locations:

  • Real Canadian Superstore (333 Seymour Boulevard) in North Vancouver, with September 24 listed as the last date worked by the employee;
  • Shoppers Drug Mart at the Shops at Mission Hills (32530 Lougheed Highway) in Mission, with September 16 as the last date the employee worked;
  • Dave’s No Frills (1401 Alaska Avenue) in Dawson Creek, with September 18 listed as the last date worked by the employee;
  • Hector’s Your Independent Grocer (1900 Garibaldi Way) in Squamish, with September 23 as the last date worked by the employee;

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has confirmed the following flights with COVID-19:

• September 18: Air Canada 122, from Vancouver to Toronto;

September 19: Air Canada 303, from Montreal to Vancouver;

• September 22: Air Canada 304, from Vancouver to Montreal;

• September 24: Air Canada 123, from Toronto to Vancouver;

For affected row information, visit the BCCDC website.

Anyone at these locations or on these flights should watch for symptoms for 14 days following the date of visit or flight date.

If you develop symptoms, immediately self-isolate and call 811 to find out about testing.You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.

Canada’s Forgotten Poor? Putting Singles Living in Deep Poverty on the Policy Radar DEAN HERD, YUNA KIM AND CHRISTINE CARRASCO, WITH COMMENTARIES BY SHERRI TORJMAN, ALAIN NOËL AND RON KNEEBONE | SEPTEMBER 15, 2020

Despite federal, provincial, and territorial governments devoting a lot of effort on plans to reduce poverty in recent years, too many Canadians continue to struggle to meet their basic daily needs on incomes that fall far below the poverty line. And, among all household groups, single persons without dependants are most likely to find themselves in these dire circumstances. Working-age singles constitute the largest proportion of beneficiaries on social assistance, and they are three times as likely to live in poverty as the average Canadian. The average income of singles living in deep poverty is less than $10,000 a year, which includes social assistance benefits. Yet, they have been overlooked in social policy reforms for several decades and in many ways remain the “forgotten poor.”

This report presents the findings of extensive research about employable singles on social assistance undertaken by Toronto Employment and Social Services, in partnership with the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation. Drawing on data from 69,000 singles who were receiving social assistance in Toronto in 2016, and 51 interviews with randomly selected participants, the report highlights these individuals’ characteristics, their complex needs, and the barriers they face in moving off social assistance and into employment. Complementing the quantitative analysis, the interviews provide important insights into the daily realities of participants’ lives and their journeys on and off assistance.

The report indicates that, contrary to common belief, singles on social assistance are not a homogenous group of young men. For instance, 38 percent of them were women and 38 percent were 45 years of age, or older. Men under the age of 30 accounted for less than 20 percent of the cases. Education levels varied greatly, as did the immigration background of those on assistance. Notably, about a third had not completed high school, but as many as 30 percent had post-secondary credentials of some kind. Naturalized Canadian citizens and permanent residents represented 43 percent of the singles caseload, the same proportion as those born in the country.

One of the key issues highlighted by the report is the fact that public income supports for single individuals living in poverty — in the form of social assistance, tax credits and supplementary benefits — are considerably less generous than those for families. Unlike the many lone parents who have been helped to move out of poverty through targeted programs and child benefits, singles have minimal access to income supports beyond modest social assistance payments. Interview participants described the difficult trade-offs they made between meeting essential needs and other living expenses. They pointed to malnourishment and deteriorating physical and mental health, not to mention the stigma and social isolation, that resulted from spells on social assistance.

Singles on social assistance also reported multiple barriers to employment. The most common reasons cited were poor health, a lack of education/skills, limited transportation options, and insufficient Canadian work experience. All of this underscores the importance of better understanding their diverse circumstances and challenges to be able to provide public services tailored to their needs. The report’s findings provide valuable information not only to policy-makers in Toronto, but also across Canada, as the increasing number of singles on social assistance and the limited financial support available to them are nation-wide concerns.

To follow up on this research, the Institute for Research on Public Policy asked three experts to comment on the findings and the broader implications for social policy reform, in particular how policy-makers at all levels of government could better help reduce deep poverty in Canada.

Sherri Torjman, social policy consultant and policy associate with Maytree, has long advocated for a fundamental “reformulation” of the country’s patchwork social safety net for working-age adults. She points out that, in the last few decades, tremendous progress has been made lifting families out of poverty, mainly thanks to decades of improvements to the Canada Child Benefit. However, in her view, progress stalled when it came to tackling the complex needs of working-age adults, especially those of singles on social assistance who are often stuck behind the “welfare wall.” She puts forth three major policy-reform options: (1) a redesign of Employment Insurance; (2) an expansion of the Canada Workers Benefit to provide an income guarantee to low-income workers and boost their take-home earnings; and (3) a “big bang” rebuild of all income-support programs. She also stresses the need to provide more diverse individualized support services for the most vulnerable.

Alain Noël, professor of political science at the Université de Montréal, argues that the focus of social policy in the last 20 years in member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been to reform the welfare state to deal with the new social risks associated with increasingly polarized labour markets and less stable dual-earner family arrangements. As a result, policy-makers’ attention in redesigning income support programs has leaned towards children, work-family conciliation, and labour market integration. He argues that those living alone in poverty were in the blind spot of this “social investment” drive, and that this contributed to maintaining very low welfare incomes for single adults. For instance, Canadian provinces remain in the bottom tier of OECD governments in terms of the adequacy of social assistance income for employable singles relative to median income. While Professor Noël agrees the post-COVID-19 environment may provide policy-makers an opportunity to address long-standing income security gaps, he cautions that there are considerable political risks in betting on new, large-scale, basic income programs as advocated by some. Instead, he encourages multi-pronged solutions focused on lifting people out of deep poverty by significantly increasing social assistance incomes, and providing more supportive employment and social services to those facing multiple challenges.

In a similar vein, Ron Kneebone, professor of economics at the University of Calgary, opines that for decades, Canadian public policies to fight poverty have been driven by politically popular campaigns centered on seniors and families with children. He argues that with single people now making up the largest group of reported households in the census, and singles being disproportionately represented among the ranks of the poor in the country, it’s time for policy-makers to shift the focus of their efforts from simply reducing the poverty rate overall to specifically addressing the problem of deep poverty among singles and its consequences. Professor Kneebone calls not only for a significant increase in social assistance benefits for them, but also for annual cost-of-living adjustments to be made on the basis of changes in rental costs — housing being the most significant affordability challenge for those living in deep poverty.

13 percent jump in COVID-19 cases has feds “keeping very watchful eye”

Federal health officials say they are “keeping a very watchful eye” on COVID-19 severity indicators.

There has been an almost 13 percent increase in the average number of daily cases of COVID-19 over the past week in Canada. An average of more than 425 cases has been reported daily over that time.

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While the government is monitoring overall numbers, it’s also concerned about the number of hospitalizations, critical care admissions, and deaths.

Those have remained stable.

But Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam says that those numbers have been known to be “late indicators” of COVID, lagging weeks behind overall realtime case counts.

In a statement released on Sunday (August 30), Tam notes that almost 50 percent of new cases among young adults between 20 and 39 years of age have occurred in recent weeks.

“Considering the many weeks of increased disease activity in younger individuals, there is a very real possibility of the virus reaching higher-risk populations,” Tam says.

As of today, there have been 127,673 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, including 9,113 deaths.This article originally appearedon the NOW Toronto website.