Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
The warnings from public health officials that young people are not immune from the COVID-19 pandemic were underscored in tragic detail this week in Alberta, where a 34-year-old man became one of the province’s latest fatalities.
As COVID-19 spreads around the world, and in Canada, much of the attention has been focused on people in their 70s, 80s and older – vulnerable and sometimes frail patients who often have underlying health conditions that put them at particular risk.
But medical experts have been urging younger people to take the outbreak seriously – not only so they do not catch the virus and continue to spread it, but because in some cases even young patients’ symptoms can be severe or even fatal.
Family members identified one of Alberta’s latest victims as Shawn Auger, a 34-year-old hockey coach, youth worker, husband and father of three in the northern Alberta community of High Prairie. He had an underlying condition – asthma – that would have increased his risk.
Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, pointed to his death as she repeated that young people can also suffer the worse consequences of COVID-19.
“The young are not spared from severe outcomes,” she said.
Across the country, federal statistics show that adults under 40 account for 10 per cent of hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and 29 per cent of all COVID-19 cases, suggesting that overall most young patients don’t have severe symptoms.
People over 60 represent roughly 30 per cent of Canada’s coronavirus cases, but make up 62 per cent of both hospitalizations and intensive care unit admission.
In Alberta, 11 of the province’s 49 hospitalizations – or about 22 per cent – were under 44, though that demographic has only had one ICU admission and one death (both Auger).
Dionne Aleman, a mechanical and industrial engineering professor at the University of Toronto, says those statistics should not provide much comfort for younger Canadians.
“It is like rolling a die. It might be unlikely that if I roll the die that the number one pops up, but that doesn’t mean that it is never going to happen.”
Auger felt unwell on March 13, and received a positive test for COVID-19 on March 16. He was hospitalized shortly after.
"You always think, what are the chances he is going to get it?’' said his wife, Jennifer Auger.
“What are the chances that he’s going to get it in a small town in northern Alberta?”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
AROUND THE WEST
KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE: The Alberta government is providing TC Energy Corp. with a cash injection and loan guarantees that will allow it to start construction of the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline to the United States in the midst of an economic crisis. Calgary-based TC Energy said on Tuesday it plans to start work on the US$11.5-billion project, more than a decade after it first applied to regulators in Canada and the United States to build it. Alberta agreed to contribute US$1.1.-billion to gain an ownership stake that it plans to sell back to the company after commercial operations begin. It will also guarantee US$4.2-billion of debt related to the the 1,947-kilometre pipeline, which has gone through a dizzying array of applications, regulatory reviews, scientific studies, redesigns and legal cases since its initial application.
SENIORS CARE HOMES: British Columbia’s Seniors Advocate says subcontracting at nursing homes in and around Vancouver has made it more difficult for these facilities facing COVID-19 outbreaks to track down and communicate with staff, some of whom were cobbling together a living wage by working at multiple facilities. With the pandemic now linked to cases at 19 of these long-term care homes, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer has acknowledged this challenge during this “extraordinary time” and is stepping in to centralize staffing across the province for the next six months.
CHILDREN OF ESSENTIAL WORKERS: Across British Columbia, schools reopened this week after spring break with empty halls, no class instruction, and just a handful of the 550,000 students in attendance. In the school district of North Vancouver, with 16,000 enrolled students, just six pupils gathered in a single elementary school, with unfamiliar classmates, teachers and routines. They are the children of essential workers who are on the front line of the COVID-19 health crisis – their parents are nurses, doctors, paramedics who would otherwise not be at work.
FACE MASKS: Public health officials in North America have discouraged healthy people from wearing masks, maintaining there’s no evidence they provide effective protection against the spread of the coronavirus. But in parts of Asia, public authorities have suggested the opposite. The different messages have left many Asians living in the West confused. “I just tried to adapt to Canadian culture more when I am here. But back at home … if you don’t wear it, then people would be like, ‘What a freak,’” said Jong Yun Park, who is from South Korea but lives in B.C.
CALGARY STAMPEDE: The Calgary Stampede is scrambling to figure out contingencies in case the event, which includes a rodeo, midway and exhibition that together attract more than 100,000 visitors a day, needs to be adjusted before it begins in the first week of July. However, any level of social distancing measures, if they are still in place by the summer, would likely mean that none of it – not the midway, not the rodeo and not the pancake breakfasts that bring large crowds of families to mall parking lots across the city – would be feasible.
RETURNING TO THE LAND: Thomas Trauttmansdorff grew up in Jerseyville, Ont., and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a farmer. Together, they grew corn, soy, wheat and hay on the land his father built up from scratch. In 2010, Trauttmansdorff switched gears and moved to the West Coast in effort to build a life less closely attached to that of his father’s. The now 35-year-old owns a canoe touring operation in Ucluelet, but in light of the coronavirus outbreak has begun to reflect on his farming days and gardening is one way to do his part in lessening the demand on the supply chain in rural communities.
ALBERTA DOCTORS: The Alberta Medical Association says the government is going ahead with its proposed health-care restructuring despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The AMA made the confirmation after hundreds of Alberta physicians argued the new rules will create instability in the health-care system at a time when doctors should be focusing on the deadly pandemic. Roughly 850 doctors signed a letter, released Monday, that estimates about 400 community clinics across Alberta have laid off staff or closed as COVID-19 sweeps the globe and the province prepares to roll out its new billing plan. Social distancing has already made it difficult to visit patients and the new pay structure will mean less compensation.
VANCOUVER FRASER PORT AUTHORITY: The operator of a B.C. container shipping terminal says its gradual expansion plans are superior to what a federal agency is proposing because Canada needs to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption to global supply chains. GCT Global Container Terminals Inc. is urging federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to support a regulatory process to review GCT’s expansion project instead of only considering one proposed by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
Want more coronavirus news sent straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters.
Kelly Cryderman on the Keystone XL pipeline decision: “Despite a checkered past of government investments in private industrial endeavors, Mr. Kenney also said Alberta taxpayers have a reasonable protection against risk. Just like Ottawa wants to unload its ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline if and when the expansion project is completed, Mr. Kenney said Alberta will sell its preferred share position once the project is completed, when “it will be a very attractive utility.””
Michael Brauer, Christopher Carlsten and Sarah Henderson on how cutting down on air pollution can help flatten the curve: “With the COVID-19 pandemic sparking concerns about the capacity of hospitals and health-care systems, there has rightly been an increased emphasis on what the average person can do: physical distancing and hand washing. But there’s more we can do to lessen the load on our health-care system, both during this crisis and beyond. And some of those secondary actions including keeping our air as clean as possible.”
Adrienne Tanner on why the banks need to help renters and landlords, alike: “To the banks I would say: During a pandemic, nothing can lift the spirits of someone who feels they might lose their home or didn’t have one in the first place. This is a time for generosity from us all.”
Max Fawcett on Jason Kenney floating the idea of a closed North American energy market: “It’s easy to see why the prospect of Alberta and Texas squaring off against Saudi Arabia and Russia would appeal to Mr. Kenney. He has built his political reputation in the province on his willingness to fight, whether it’s with his partisan political opponents or groups such as teachers, doctors and public servants. The prospect of Alberta saddling up alongside the United States in a battle against rogue international regimes, meanwhile, is the fullest expression yet of Ezra Levant’s “ethical oil” argument – one to which MSKenney has returned repeatedly.”