Posts Tagged "people"

7Jan

COVID-19: People suffering from long-COVID fight uphill battle for acknowledgment and support

by admin

“I couldn’t say more than two words without gasping for air. I’ve had several mini heart attacks. Every night I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t read because my brain couldn’t grasp words.” — Adriana Patino

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Adriana Patino’s life has been “a living hell” since she first started showing symptoms of COVID-19 on Christmas Day 2020.

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“I couldn’t say more than two words without gasping for air. I’ve had several mini heart attacks. Every night I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t read because my brain couldn’t grasp words. My heart rate would shoot up to 175 beats per minute out of the blue for no reason. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t do anything,” said the 36-year-old competitive swimmer from North Vancouver.

Those symptoms have not gone away. As a result, Patino has been unable to return to her job as a benefits consultant for an insurance firm.

“I still can’t always read, to this day. I still have a super heavy chest, breathlessness and extreme fatigue every day.”

Researchers say Patino is not alone. Preliminary findings from a national study estimate one third of Canadians who catch COVID-19 will end up with what the World Health Organization calls “post-COVID condition.”

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In B.C., that estimate, based on the number of reported cases, would translate to more than 81,000 people who may be experiencing a wide range of symptoms more than three months after first becoming sick. Although no longer contagious, long-haulers suffer from shortness of breath, brain fog, as well as kidney, heart, vascular and lung conditions that can be debilitating.

“I can’t carry grocery bags, I cannot carry any weight. I can only vacuum one room at a time in a day. Some days my arms are sore from just washing my hair,” explained Mandie, a 46 year-old Vancouver resident, who became infected near the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

“The intensity of fatigue and the onslaught of symptoms are on a regular basis and no one could tell me what was going on. I don’t recognize myself,” she said. “I do not know what happened to the person I was before. I cannot tell you how terrified and awful the last year was for me.”

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British Columbians like Mandie and Patino said the long-term effects from COVID-19 have been made worse by having to fight for help from the medical community, employers and even friends and family to manage a disease that is not well understood and for which there is no cure.

Mandie has asked that her last name not be made public over fears that she will never get a job if potential employers know she has long-COVID.

“I have heard terrible stories from other long-COVID people who are having difficulty with their employers,” she explained. “People who have worked for decades and are being denied their benefits. Some have hired lawyers to fight for them.”

Those stories are shared by long-haulers who support each other through a group called Long COVID Canada.

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The group was established in June 2020, months before the World Health Organization defined “long-COVID” and more than a year before long-COVID was acknowledged by Canada’s public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam.

COVID-19 long hauler Jonah McGarva outside his Burnaby home. Photo: Jason Payne
COVID-19 long hauler Jonah McGarva outside his Burnaby home. Photo: Jason Payne Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

A co-founder of the group, 43-year-old Vancouverite Jonah McGarva, said he was forced to become an advocate at a time when some doctors and employers denied long-COVID existed and public health officials offered few answers about their illness.

“Canada was completely ignorant and oblivious to the long-COVID topic,” said McGarva, who contracted COVID in March 2020 and has not worked since. “Because our health system is in such disarray on the federal and provincial levels you have to advocate for your own health.”

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Long COVID Canada wrote to the national Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health in late June 2020. The seven-page letter begged officials to invest in research and to educate the medical community, including emergency room staff, who they said were dismissive to long-haulers seeking help.

“Without any medical answers or insight into our condition, we are left with living in limbo — unable to access treatment and therapies and filled with uncertainty about our futures,” it read.

McGarva said the response from B.C.’s provincial health officer and chair of the council, Dr. Bonnie Henry, came two months later. In it, she assured the group, “your suggestions and recommendations are being well considered.”

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“We’ve heard nothing since,” said McGarva. However, he said Long COVID Canada was tapped by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to sit on a panel at a conference devoted to long-COVID one month after Long COVID Canada was formed. Six months later, B.C. set up its Post-COVID-19 Interdisciplinary Clinical Care Network, the first jurisdiction in Canada to create a program of care for long-haulers.

Its four clinics serve more than 2,200 patients in Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford. All have long wait lists.

The clinics’ multidisciplinary teams assess long-COVID patients through blood work, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds along with questionnaires that are used for research purposes and for referrals to specialists. Clinicians help patients create a plan of care and lead seminars to teach them ways to manage their symptoms.

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Dr. Zach Schwartz, the medical director of the clinic at Vancouver General Hospital said patients are followed for up to 18 months but it’s been tough not being able to offer them proven treatments or a known cure.

“There’s always a certain degree of uncertainty in medicine and that is difficult to deal with but this has taken it to a whole new level,” said Schwartz. “We have learned a lot but at the same time we haven’t.”

Mandie says the clinic’s seminars on managing fatigue, brain fog and panic attacks saved her life.

“The classes explain to us what these symptoms are and what is happening in your body and until you understand that, you are terrified,” said Mandie. “My relapses have gone from being these really deep valleys to rolling hills.”

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McGarva will soon be outfitted with a monitor to measure how, when and hopefully why his heart speeds up and slows down uncontrollably.

“I sat for two years and couldn’t do anything so my journey has just begun.”

It’s been a long journey for all three. It took more than a year before they became enrolled in their clinics. Neither McGarva nor Mandie had a positive PCR test, which was required. However, at the start of the pandemic, there was a shortage of PCR tests and most were reserved for health care workers.

“It took a lot of arm twisting from my personal doctor, who believed so strongly in my case that there was something wrong and I needed this clinic,” said McGarva.

The network that runs the clinics changed its policy last summer, to allow those who contracted COVID-19 between January and June 2020 to be eligible for services without a PCR test. It is currently reviewing its eligibility requirements because the number of cases caused by the Omicron variant means people are again unable to get a PCR test to confirm their disease.

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The clinic network also provides information online and through a clinical consulting service for family physicians so they can treat post-COVID-19 patients closer to home. But its clinic in Abbotsford is facing a new threat.

Mandie was emotional as she recounted being told by her Abbotsford clinicians that their funding runs out in March.

“Before the clinic, I had absolutely no hope. I felt suicidal many times,” she said through tears. “I was bedridden for three months and no one could tell me if I would get well. When you have a debility to this level, especially for people like me who were so healthy — who never got sick, and have no context for what an illness can actually do to you, this has been my lifeline.”

In a written statement, Fraser Health would not confirm whether the services, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and mental health services with a social worker, would continue in Abbotsford after March 31.

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It said: “The evaluation of the post-COVID-19 clinics was completed at the end of December 2021. It assessed patient experiences, outcomes and operations. This evaluation is currently under review and we expect to be able to provide an update shortly.”

It’s unclear whether any budget cuts would affect national studies that are using data gathered at the clinics.

Dr. Angela Cheung is leading two research studies on long-COVID funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

One is a randomized trial looking at various treatments for long-COVID. The other is a longitudinal study of 2,000 long-haulers, including many from B.C., who caught the virus across the four pandemic waves.

“We are looking at the various variants, we’re looking at the genetics of the virus and genetics of the host. We’re looking at how people are coping with long-COVID — looking at various outcomes for the patients and their caregivers and trying to figure out the social, demographic, clinical and biomarker predictor of these outcomes,” explained Cheung.

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The group has not published a peer-reviewed study yet, but Cheung said it has produced information that is being used in real time.

“What we have learned is that it is not just those who were hospitalized who will get long-COVID. People who were not hospitalized also got long-COVID and we found if they have a lot of symptoms at the very beginning of their illness, we are looking at about five symptoms, then the chances of getting long-COVID are much higher,” said Cheung.

Dr. Zachary Schwartz is the medical director for the Post COVID-19 Recovery Clinic at VGH. Photo: Jason Payne.
Dr. Zachary Schwartz is the medical director for the Post COVID-19 Recovery Clinic at VGH. Photo: Jason Payne. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Shwartz said clinicians fear reinfection could be very harmful to long-haulers. Cheung said the good news is researchers have discovered vaccines help alleviate long-haul symptoms and may prevent people from developing long-COVID.

She said there remains no cure or proven therapies for long-COVID but she’s optimistic that’s coming.

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“Just two years ago, we really didn’t have anything to treat COVID in the acute care setting and now we have a number of treatments which improve outcomes” said Cheung. “And now we are looking at treatments in the outpatient setting to try to decrease long-COVID both in prevention and in treatment, so I would stay tuned.”

The federal government has promised to spend $20 million a year on long-COVID research. Both Cheung and McGarva would like more.

“That’s not a lot and what about the actual treatment? What about coordinated statistics? What about post-COVID clinics? Half the country doesn’t have them.” said McGarva.

McGarva said governments could also do more to assist long-haulers in accessing financial assistance.

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“I got CERB but can’t get on disability because my wife, who works three jobs to support us, makes too much money. I got 15 weeks (of Employment Insurance benefits) but I was cut off in January 2021, so I have no financial support,” he said. “A lot of insurers still won’t recognize long-COVID. Under Canada Pension Plan Disability you can qualify, even with a negative PCR. They have some money but it’s not easy to get it and it’s not a large amount.”

McGarva said long-haulers have had a long fight for recognition and support. He believes the transmissibility of Omicron means there will be more long haulers. He said health authorities, public health officials and the minister of health need to emphasize the risks posed to everyone by long-COVID.

“These issues with long-COVID are preventable by preventing COVID. I’m not saying lock down but the ramifications of not being able to prevent long-COVID and not putting out the information about the risk and how debilitating that is, you are contributing to the problem and are admitting that you have failed.”

lcordasco@postmedia.com

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6Jan

Unshovelled sidewalks isolate people with disabilities, accessibility consultant says | CBC News

by admin

The danger of navigating snowy sidewalks can confine people living with disabilities to their homes, says accessibility consultant Amy Amantea. 

“We’re isolating people. We’re shutting them off. We’re closing them off getting to medical appointments, getting essential goods in their homes.”

Amantea, who is a resident of North Vancouver and sits on the North Shore advisory committee on disability issues, is partially sighted with two per cent vision. Walking around her community over the past few weeks has been a challenge. 

“I sense the snow differently, not necessarily with my eyes but under my feet and I find it quite treacherous to walk and to navigate with my white cane.” 

In North Vancouver, property owners must remove snow and ice from sidewalks in their perimeter within 24 hours after snow has stopped falling or before the snow accumulation reaches 10 centimetres. 

Amantea said even though homeowners and businesses are responsible for shoveling their sidewalks, many pathways in her neighborhood go days without being cleared. 

“I find that that doesn’t get done in a very timely manner. For me, the consequence is that I can’t get to my bus stop in a safe way. I can’t necessarily navigate to the local grocery store.” 

Amantea said municipalities need to step up, either by better enforcing the rules or by contracting people to shovel sidewalks. 

“There’s never any penalty for folks … if we want to encourage the right thing, we kind of need to enforce those penalties.”

Amantea said a community forum to help people identify and check on people in their neighborhood with disabilities during extreme weather events would be a worthwhile endeavour. 

“This is the one time where I use that dreaded H word. I am not a handicapped person, but I get handicapped by my environment.”

Snow angels to the rescue

A group of volunteers in Vancouver called the Snow Angels shovel sidewalks for residents that are unable to clear snow on their own, including those with limited mobility and seniors. 

The program matches people that need assistance with a volunteer in their area. 

Volunteer DJ Lawrence said the snow angels have had a busy week. Lawrence said they have about 82 volunteers on their roster and are always recruiting more. 

“It’s good fun. it’s good exercise. It gives you an opportunity to help people in your community and helps people that do have mobility challenges to get out and around,” said Lawrence. 

In the City of Vancouver, property owners and occupants are required to clear snow and ice around their property by 10 a.m. the morning following a snowfall. 

After a record snowfall in the city in 2019, 244 property owners were charged with failing to do exactly that.

“People are starting to understand you’re supposed to have them cleared by 10 in the morning and that helps everybody in the community,” said Lawrence.

15Nov

New funding connects people to tourism careers in the Okanagan

by admin

As many as 30 eligible British Columbians will get skills training to prepare them for jobs in the hospitality industry in the Okanagan and Shuswap regions.

“Graduates of this skills-training project will be qualified for a variety of jobs in the hospitality and tourism sectors,” said Nicholas Simons, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “The training participants receive will prepare them for exciting careers and give them an opportunity to contribute to the growth of local businesses in their communities.”

This is a new Community and Employer Partnerships (CEP) project from the Government of British Columbia. Participant recruitment is focused on immigrants.

The Province is providing more than $450,000 to Okanagan College, Kelowna campus to deliver two intakes of its hospitality professional program. Participants will receive 17 weeks of occupational and employability skills training, 10 weeks of on-the-job work experience with local employers and three weeks of followup support to assist in their job search.

Courses will include computer software, marketing and sales, soft skills, COVID-19 health and safety training, human resources and management, project management and accounting. Participants will also receive certification courses in FoodSafe, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System and Serving it Right, as well as basic accounting or hospitality service training.

“Introductory skills training, like the hospitality professional program, has the ability to transform lives of new Canadians while also supporting communities in need of trained employees,” said Danelle Greebe, director of continuing studies and corporate training, Okanagan College.

Funding for this project is provided through the Project Based Labour Market Training stream of WorkBC’s CEP. CEP’s investments are targeted toward projects that support an inclusive economic recovery. CEP supports B.C. job seekers’ training and work experience leading to employment in available jobs, and aids businesses and communities in addressing labour market challenges. CEP invests $15 million annually in communities throughout B.C.

“As B.C.’s tourism industry starts to recover, businesses are working hard to recruit employees. Opportunities like the hospitality professional program are an important part of our work to help businesses and workers get back on their feet,” said Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport. “B.C.’s tourism sector is second to none because of the people who are committed to providing exceptional experiences to visitors across the province. This program will provide a strong foundation for valuable careers in tourism and hospitality.”

The hospitality professional program project is recruiting eligible applicants living in and around Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and Revelstoke.

Full-time online and classroom learning for the first intake will start on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, and project activities will run until June 17, 2022. Anyone interested in finding out more about this or other CEP projects can contact their local WorkBC centre.

Learn More:

Learn how CEPs are helping local communities:
www.workbc.ca/Employment-Services/Community-and-Employer-Partnerships.aspx

Learn about how WorkBC can help find British Columbians jobs that are right for them:
www.workbc.ca/rightforyou

Find your local WorkBC centre:
https://www.workbc.ca/Employment-Services/WorkBC-Centres/WorkBC-Centres-Listing.aspx

Okanagan College: https://www.okanagan.bc.ca/hospitalityprofessional     

8Nov

Heating with natural gas? There are other ways, but most people won’t do it | CBC News

by admin

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

You may have seen recent media warnings that the price of natural gas is soaring. 

As COP26 heads into its final week, those trying to help Canadians meet our climate commitments and prevent the world from overheating have a different view. The problem with fossil methane — the main component of natural gas — they say, is not that it’s expensive, but that it is still so cheap.

It is also efficient, reliable and in millions of Canadian homes. And at the burning stage at least, research shows it’s cleaner and far less greenhouse gas intensive than other fossil fuel alternatives.

Some, including former federal Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver, now chair of Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator, oppose the move to stop using natural gas, saying it will be prohibitively expensive and self-defeating

  • Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.

But there is a problem. It depends how you calculate it, but most figures show space heating comes in after oil and gas production and road transport as being the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Of heat sources, natural gas is the biggest single GHG producer partly because it is so widely used. To reach net zero by 2050, experts say we have to stop heating with gas.

The warm glow of a gas furnace in a Toronto home, just one of millions across Canada contributing greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. Gas is not just cheap but it is efficient and its widespread use will make it hard to displace without government rules. (Wendy Martinez/Don Pittis/CBC)

Despite battling a powerful industry lobby, deep-rooted infrastructure, consumer familiarity and challenging economics, a group of committed Canadians is beginning to move the needle on natural gas consumption that makes so many of us cozy in Canada’s chilly climate.

Sheena Sharp, a Toronto architect whose firm, Coolearth, has specialized in low carbon and low energy design since 2008, is one who fears it isn’t going to be easy. That’s because cutting back on natural gas has to face a tough economic reality. Sharp said that since the oil and gas industry developed hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, offering a bounty of new and inexpensive natural gas from formerly “dry” geology, schemes to reduce the use of it simply don’t pay off.

WATCH | CBC’s Johanna Wagstaffe outlines what she is watching for at COP26 this week:

Science takes centre stage at COP26

As the COP26 climate summit moves from big announcements to nitty-gritty details, the focus on science could be the bridge between opposing sides of climate debates. 2:21

Won’t pay for the windows

“Saving half of something that is not very expensive does not give you a lot of money to play with,” Sharp said in a recent phone conversation.

In other words, if your gas bill is about $1,000 a year, even doing something as simple as replacing old leaky windows — while it will likely make you more comfortable — may never pay back your capital investment.

Sharp said that even at its maximum, years from now, carbon taxes will only go part way toward compensating for the cost of refitting an old building to make it net zero. Sharp’s main clients are businesses or public institutions that see a public relations value in demonstrating they are acting to fight climate change.

She has a few clients who are homeowners with spare cash to spend for the sake of their conscience and comfort, but if it doesn’t add to the selling price, most others will stick to natural gas. Most businesses that must go head to head with competitors are unwilling to splash out on a low carbon refit that can put them at a financial disadvantage, she said.

“After you’ve done the low-hanging fruit, which is essentially changing the light bulbs and putting in more efficient gas boilers,” said Sharp, “most of the energy-efficient measures are pretty expensive.”

That’s why she and many others who are trying to get Canadians off natural gas say the only solution is regulation by municipal or provincial governments that create a level playing field for businesses and homeowners, at the same time spawning a whole new industry that will make fuel-switching increasingly cheap and easy.

Heating buildings in Canada’s chilly climate is the third-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the oil and gas industry and transportation. (Government of Canada)

Leading the charge to carbon-free

That’s exactly what the City of Vancouver is doing, and Chris Higgins, the city’s senior green building planner, is one of those leading the charge. Vancouver is one of several Canadian cities to declare a climate emergency, and its first step, Higgins said, was to target new construction and major renovations, the stage when making buildings climate friendly is the cheapest and offers the biggest payoff. And he’s moving quickly.

“Vancouver as a city, we have our own building code,” Higgins said in a phone interview. “As of Jan. 1, 2022 … we’re no longer allowing fossil fuels — natural gas being the most common — to be used for heating a home or to heat hot water.”

That deadline is less than two months away, and it comes with other conditions including thick insulation, triple-glazed windows, a draft-free building envelope and ventilation that reclaims the heat from exhausted air.

Chris Higgins, Vancouver’s head of green building planning, poses with his new heat pump that he says will suck the warmth out of outdoor air down to –25 C. (City of Vancouver)

Altogether, he said, the requirements will mean newly constructed homes will use 90 per cent less energy to heat compared to homes built in 2007. And that means the cost of heating shrinks in importance.

In fact, the majority of those new homes, small- and medium-sized ones, will cost less to heat than older homes that use gas, said Higgins.

Experts like Katya Rhodes at the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems in Victoria say a healthy support network of local businesses is already growing up to do the job and B.C. community colleges are training a new generation of specialists.

WATCH | COP26 protesters increase pressure on leaders to take action on climate change:

Protesters increase pressure on COP26 to deliver on climate goals

Protesters in Glasgow are increasing pressure on COP26 to deliver on climate action goals during the summit’s second week. 2:00

Targeting existing homes

But Higgins and his team are not satisfied with climate-proofing the roughly 1,000 low-rise homes the city builds in a year. Shortly after the new-home policy passed through council just before the pandemic hit, Higgins began work on policy for existing homes.

Homes built before 1940 when few houses were insulated are the biggest challenge, said Higgins, but Heritage Vancouver is offering grants and support to retrofit the oldest homes.

The city is also offering a $12,000 grant to any homeowner willing to turn off the gas and install a heat pump — a device like an inverse refrigerator that concentrates warmth from outdoor air using a fraction of the electricity of a standard baseboard heater.

Higgins, whose own home was built in 1905, heats with a Mitsubishi H2i heat pump that cuts electricity use by two-thirds and can continue to suck heat out of outdoor air down to –25 C. Below that, in colder climes, the device is supplemented by radiant electric heat.

Despite temperatures that fall toward -50 C, Whitehorse has been a leader in imposing strict rules for residential buildings, aiming to reach net zero by 2050. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Critics in colder places might complain that Vancouver, where temperatures rarely fall below –8 C, has it easy.

But cooler cities, including notably Halifax, are also leaders, especially in the use of heat pump technology.

And Higgins’s model for his building code plan? It’s Whitehorse, where temperatures have plunged to –50 C, a city that issued its first climate-friendly building code in 2009 and has tightened the rules steadily since, said city engineer Nick Marnik, although homes there are not connected to Canada’s natural gas network.

At COP26, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed Canada’s biggest GHG generator, the oil-and-gas sector itself, to reducing emissions. With improving technology and falling costs, electric cars seem destined to send gas motors to the scrapheap.

But as architect Sharp noted, while people on average turn over their cars every 15 years, all the buildings you can see out your window now in all probability will still be there in 2050, a time when Canada has committed to net zero.

As Vancouver has demonstrated, the private sector has the skills and technology to meet that target. But in places like Toronto, Sharp said, a lack of government rules that would stimulate the virtuous circle of better technology and a faster transition mean increases in energy efficiency have slowed to a crawl.

“It’s critical for … government to make a decision and it’s critical that they do it soon,” said Sharp.

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis


Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.


 

4Nov

COVID-19: Many people are still shocked to discover they may have coronavirus

by admin

‘Sometimes people might feel like we’re snooping or spying on them, but we’re just trying to keep everyone within a household safe.” — Contact tracer Shaan Laura says

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During this pandemic, healthcare workers have been on the front lines, lauded as heroes but also targeted by anti-vaccine mandate protesters. Postmedia went behind the scenes and spoke with a range of Fraser Health Authority staff for this five-part series to see how they’re coping. Here is part five:

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Who do you live with a complete stranger asks over the phone. How many bedrooms in your home?

Who else was at that party you went to? Who have you been in close contact with since?

Those questions and many, many more are all part of a COVID-19 contact tracer’s job, and while the questions might seem intrusive, most people — the vast majority of them — are happy to hear from Shaan Laura, a criminology student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University who has been a contact tracer since January.

“If someone tests positive for COVID-19, we give them a call, go through a set of questions, ask where they think they may have possibly caught the virus, offer any advice and help we can,” Laura said. “And we kind of go from there. It’s a quite comprehensive set of questions we ask people to ensure everyone’s safe.”

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The reason for the questions is to ensure someone who caught the virus can isolate alone at home, away from other members of the family.

It’s an effort to mitigate exposure even within a household.

“So sometimes people might feel like we’re snooping or spying on them, but we’re just trying to keep everyone within a household safe,” Laura said.

In his 10 months on the job, most people are not only cooperative, most are expecting his call.

“In some situations, they aren’t very nice people, but the chances of that are quite low, actually,” he said.

“There are some people who deny that COVID’s a thing, or they believe they’ve received false results, stuff like that. But we try our best to keep it cool, to explain the situation.

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“And in some cases there are people who are upset they have to isolate. Everyone has different circumstances, financially and otherwise.”

But contact tracers still try to explain the best possible way to mitigate having caught the virus.

“We tell them, ‘You’re not the only one dealing with it, there’s a whole bunch of people. We’re really trying to help people, ensure they’re safe as possible and to stay home for that period.”


Read the full series:

Part 1 —   Respiratory therapists see ICUs fill up with non-vaccinated patients

Part 2 —   Health officers find themselves branching out because of pandemic

Part 3 —  Nurses overworked, stressed out and overflowing with care and concern for their patients

Part 4 — Some patients still suffering 18 months after first diagnosis

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Laura compares the ease with which COVID-19 spread to a wildfire; and the Delta variant spreads like it’s been fanned by typhoon-strength winds.

People are still surprised they’ve caught the virus, he said. They played it safe, super safe. They’ve had extremely limited exposure. They wash their hands regularly and take care not to touch their face.

“And they still somehow caught it.  Unless you stay home, unless you stay inside your four walls, there’s always a chance.”

Most people are expecting the call.

Some of those who aren’t are shocked, and the parable about shooting messengers delivering unpleasant facts comes to mind.

“I’ve had it happen to me a couple of times in my past 10 months here,” Laura said, “and it sucks to be bearer of bad news, to tell someone they’ve got COVID.”

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So he tries to keep the mood as light as possible, even telling a few jokes if appropriate.

“Trying, really, to help someone, especially if elderly. But again, a very, very high percentage of people expect the call and thanks us for calling.”

It’s not something that’s taught, there’s no tracer prep school. It comes naturally to Laura.

“I try not to be too, too serious, I don’t want to sound like a robot when I’m talking to someone; I personally wouldn’t want, if I imagine someone calling me, going through that whole script in a robot voice, it wouldn’t be very nice. It would be boring.”

But the job can be stressful. Delta, the most recent variant, has caused a huge surge in cases. And informing someone who doesn’t have the resources to properly isolate that they need to regardless is tough.

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“Telling someone who is living in a shelter or doesn’t have a permanent address, telling them to isolate and asking them to figure out how to do that, it’s pretty stressful,” Laura said.

“It’s not an easy job, but it’s not overly tough, either. It feels rewarding in a way that you’re helping the community.

“It feels like the work you’re doing is having a direct, positive impact.”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre


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19Oct

People with invisible disabilities face constant struggle to be recognized, advocate says | CBC News

by admin

Eileen Davis was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 29 — but it wasn’t apparent to anyone who saw her. 

“I kept hearing, ‘Oh, but you look fine. You look great. It’s just arthritis. Oh, you’re young, it’s OK,'” Davis said. 

Davis said the fact that her illness wasn’t apparent made her delay getting care. 

“I actually denied care for a bit because I felt like I didn’t need it … It took a while for me to actually accept that I was living with a debilitating condition,” she told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC’s On The Coast.

Today, Davis advocates on behalf of people suffering from invisible disabilities — which include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder, autism, fibromyalgia and epilepsy, among others.

“There are so many [conditions] where you can’t tell somebody might be living with them just by looking at them,” she said. 

This week marks Invisible Disabilities Week, which was started to address some of the barriers people with such disabilities face — like not being believed they have a disability in the first place.

“When people can’t see [the issue], they tend to diminish the severity of the disability. That can be really difficult for somebody who’s actually going through it because research suggests that those who have a strong support network actually have better outcomes,” said Davis.

The pandemic has in some ways made the issue more important, Davis says. It’s often the people who downplay these disabilities who also downplay the risk of COVID-19, she says.

“When I’m out and about and I need to keep my social distance and make sure those people around me are vaccinated or wearing a mask, sometimes they may downplay the severity about catching COVID-19, or even just the flu or any respiratory illness,” she says. 

Davis says the most important thing she wants people to take away from her experiences is not to make assumptions about what someone might be going through, despite their outward appearance. 

“Any time you see somebody sitting on a bus or a SkyTrain and they’re in a seat for seniors or people with disabilities, even if they’re young, they may still be dealing with a disability,” she said.

On The Coast6:47National Invisible Disabilities Week

Arthritis advocate Eileen Davis on National Invisible Disabilities Week. 6:47

19Oct

COVID-19 update for Oct. 19: Vaccine mandate ordered for B.C. pharmacists | Survey reveals impact of COVID-19 on people with heart disease or stroke

by admin

Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the novel coronavirus situation in B.C.

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Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the novel coronavirus situation in B.C. for Oct. 19, 2021.

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We’ll provide summaries of what’s going on in B.C. right here so you can get the latest news at a glance. This page will be updated regularly throughout the day, with developments added as they happen.

Check back here for more updates throughout the day. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.


B.C.’S COVID-19 CASE NUMBERS

As of the latest figures given on Oct. 18:
• Total number of confirmed cases: 198,278 (4,917 active)
• New cases since Oct. 14: 1,846 (753/650/443)
• Total deaths: 2,081 (26 additional deaths)
• Hospitalized cases: 360
• Intensive care: 151
• Total vaccinations: 4,133,755 received first dose; 3,865,096 second doses
• Recovered from acute infection: 190,918
• Long-term care and assisted-living homes, and acute care facilities currently affected: 22

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IN-DEPTH:   Here are all the B.C. cases of the novel coronavirus in 2021 | in 2020


B.C. GUIDES AND LINKS

COVID-19: Here’s everything you need to know about the novel coronavirus

COVID-19: B.C.’s vaccine passport is here and this is how it works

COVID-19: Here’s how to get your vaccination shot in B.C.

COVID-19: Look up your neighbourhood in our interactive map of case and vaccination rates in B.C.

COVID-19: Afraid of needles? Here’s how to overcome your fear and get vaccinated

COVID-19: Five things to know about the P1 variant spreading in B.C.

COVID-19: Here’s where to get tested in Metro Vancouver

B.C. COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool


LATEST NEWS on COVID-19 in B.C.

B.C. health officials expected to provide an update on COVID-19

The province’s top health officials are holding a news conference Tuesday 1:30 p.m. for its regular COVID-19 update.

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Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry will be in attendance.

On Monday, B.C. announced there were 1,846 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend (753 on Friday; 650 on Saturday; and 443 on Sunday).

There are 4,917 active cases, of which 360 are being treated in hospital including 151 in intensive care. These numbers are relatively stable. The B.C. Ministry of Health reported 26 deaths over the past three days.

Survey reveals impact of COVID-19 on people with heart disease or stroke

People living with heart disease or stroke have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, according to a new survey.

The survey, conducted by Heart & Stroke, found that more than 80 per cent of health professionals and researchers said that delays in diagnosis and treatment due to pandemic-related disruptions have led to poorer health outcomes.

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Health workers and researchers are concerned that patients at risk of or living with heart disease or stroke were not always able to access the care they needed during the pandemic. A previous survey of people with heart disease or stroke found that two out of three report having at least a medical appointment cancelled or delayed during the pandemic.

The pandemic has also affected heart and brain health research, slowing down recruitment and ongoing trials due to public health measures, found the survey. Some researchers were also diverted from their work to help care for COVID-19 patients.

More than half of the health professionals also reported concerns about a decrease in cardiovascular health in people who did not have existing conditions before the pandemic.

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The Heart & Stroke survey was conducted by Environics Research with 370 health professionals between Aug. 16 to Sept. 7.

Vaccine mandate ordered for all registered pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in B.C.

Emily McIntosh manages a rural pharmacy in Castlegar and has been frustrated with the lack of uniform rules for B.C. pharmacists and technicians being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to serve customers.

One major chain, London Drugs, made it clear in late August that by Nov. 1 all its employees, including pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, would be required to be fully vaccinated.

But there was nothing in place at many small, independent drug stores, nor at other large chains such as Loblaw Companies, which owns Shoppers Drug Mart.

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“We have many elderly people coming in. We have those plastic barriers and things like that. But sometimes you have to go out and help them find a product, so there goes the barrier,” said McIntosh.

“And sometimes if someone is asking a question and they can’t hear, and you have to lean in, it’s impossible to create the physical distancing.”

On Monday, the College of Pharmacists provided the clarity that McIntosh was looking for, saying all registered pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will have to be fully vaccinated, have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, or have an exemption to continue working.

The college said its statement was based on an order by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry late last week.

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Read more HERE .

— Joanne Lee-Young

City of Vancouver and Grouse Mountain join growing list of mandatory vaccination sites

The number of mandatory vaccination orders in place to access venues or keep your job in B.C. continues to grow, with Grouse Mountain and the City of Vancouver releasing their plans on Monday.

Mayor of Vancouver Kennedy Stewart said that all city workers will need to be fully vaccinated (two doses) by Dec. 6, 2021 or they will not be allowed in the workplace.

“Vancouver has one of the highest vaccination rates, making us one of the world’s safest cities as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stewart said in a prepared statement. The City of Vancouver has a vaccination rate in those aged 12 and over of 90 per cent, compared to the provincial 83.4 per cent.

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The City of Vancouver has around 8,000 full-time and part-time employees and is the first municipality in B.C. to make such an order.

Meanwhile on Monday, Grouse Mountain revealed all workers and guests will need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15, 2021.

The North Vancouver ski resort will have a one-time vaccine verification process for pass-holders, while people on day passes will need to show proof of vaccination (B.C. Vaccine Card) each visit.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has already made it mandatory for any hospital or long-term care facility worker to be fully vaccinated but she does not have the power to make orders in non-health workplaces.

However, at her suggestion, B.C. Hydro two weeks ago mandated vaccination for all its workers at the Site C dam project where there had been two COVID-19 outbreaks. B.C. Ferries has also mandated vaccination in its workers, but not passengers.

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Read more HERE .

— David Carrigg


B.C. MAP OF WEEKLY COVID CASE COUNTS, VACCINATION RATES

Find out how your neighbourhood is doing in the battle against COVID-19 with the latest number of new cases, positivity rates, and vaccination rates:


B.C. VACCINE TRACKER



LOCAL RESOURCES for COVID-19 information

Here are a number of information and landing pages for COVID-19 from various health and government agencies.

B.C. COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool

Vancouver Coastal Health – Information on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

HealthLink B.C. – Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page

B.C. Centre for Disease Control – Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

Government of Canada – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update

World Health Organization – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

–with files from The Canadian Press

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8Oct

World Mental Health Day: COVID-19 has led to increase in psychological symptoms and people seeking help

by admin

The good news is, there is lots of help available and it’s easy to access virtually.

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Mental-health problems brought on by viral outbreaks, such as COVID-19, have long been called parallel epidemics, and research during the current crisis seems to bear that out.

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“When we talk about the impact of COVID on mental health, the impact is due to multiple factors,” said Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, the University of B.C.’s head of psychiatry as well as the regional head and program medical director of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Providence Health.

One factor, of course, is having COVID itself.

“But also all the others things that came with COVID: Lockdowns, social isolation, social-rhythm destruction,” Yatham said. “But also a financial impact as well, because many people lost their jobs.”

Yatham, co-author of an editorial in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry on the mental health of communities during COVID, was speaking ahead of Sunday’s World Mental Health Day: It’s time to make quality mental-health care for all a reality, says the WHO.

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On Oct. 8, there were 743 new cases of COVID in B.C. for a total of 192,491 cases in the province. There have been five new deaths, for a total of 2,001 since the start of the pandemic. Eighty-eight-point-six per cent of eligible people age 12-and-over have received their first dose of the vaccine and 82.2 per cent have received their second dose.

Because COVID is relatively new, doctors and scientists around the world have been eager to come up with new information to try to understand its impact at several levels from a mental-health perspective, said Yatham. He and his team have studied surveys about physical and mental effects, feelings of anxiety, depression, increased alcohol and drug use.

“Lots of surveys have indicated that COVID has had a huge impact on the mental health of populations, with numbers varying depending upon where the survey was done, when the survey was done, who the target population was, that sort of thing,” he said. “So for example, a survey done in the U.S. indicated that 40 per cent of the population were exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress-related (issues). Before the pandemic that number would have been more like 10 per cent.

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“So there’s a huge increase in terms of the number of people, the proportion of people, reporting symptoms of those things. But what those surveys don’t tell us is, are they feeling anxious and depressed or do they actually have a psychiatric disorder?”

All of us at times, for a variety of reasons, feel anxious, upset, sad, irritable or angry, Yatham said. That’s not to say it indicates a psychiatric disorder, he said.

“The question is, how many (people reporting symptoms) actually have the disorders, that’s the type of research that is starting to come out.”

Yatham and a colleague, Dr. Daniel Vigo, recently got a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to identify groups of patients who are at increased risk of developing adverse mental-health outcomes because of COVID, with an eye to making it easier to access effective treatments. One thing they looked at was comparing during the second wave of the virus in B.C. people hospitalized because of COVID with those in hospital because of flu, and the same two groups that didn’t require hospitalization.

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The results were a bit surprising.

Roughly, as many hospitalized flu-sufferers over the previous eight years sought mental-health counselling within three months of leaving hospital as did those hospitalized with COVID (about 30 per cent in each case), but for those not hospitalized, twice as many with COVID sought mental-health help as did flu-bug victims (about 13 per cent versus six or seven per cent).

“This is still very preliminary data so we still need to do more analysis to fully understand it,” Yatham said. “But clearly, in the mild-to-moderate COVID people the incidence of psychiatric conditions seems to be much higher.”

Another study Yatham was part of found worsening of depression and bipolar disorder correlated with the degree of lockdown — the more severe it was, the more people’s mental health suffered.

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“With COVID, all of us shut down our social lives, in a way. You’re sitting at home watching TV, no social contacts, your biological rhythms and social rhythms are completely disrupted, all of which are important for good mental health,” he said.

Research continues and more will be found out down the road, but if there’s good news it’s that help has never been easier to find.

Pre-pandemic, pretty much every counselling session would’ve been in-person, Yatham said, but phone and video-conference counselling has soared — up to 95 per cent of psychiatric care provided in the VCH region was done virtually at one point during COVID.

As well, VCH-supported mental health crisis lines are getting four times the volume of calls they did pre-pandemic.

“Now there are lots of opportunities,” Yatham said. “Don’t hesitate to seek help.”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre

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Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

4Sep

People seeking mental health support say they face long, potentially harmful wait times | CBC News

by admin

Tera Hawes first reached out for help with her mental health around 2011, when she was suffering from what she now knows as a hypomanic episode.

“There [were] lots of areas where my life was kind of spiralling,” she said. 

The 37-year-old from Vancouver was overspending, using substances and had endless energy which led her to exhaust herself socially, just some of the ways hypomania affected her.

“The impact on my life was monumental.”

It wasn’t until six years later, in 2017, that Hawes was accurately diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, characterized by hypomanic episodes and deep bouts of depression.

Tera Hawes says her journey to find appropriate mental health supports has been marked by disappointment. (CBC News)

She is not actively suicidal, non-violent and not living with addiction. Those three traits place her and many other British Columbians within a group that can struggle to get timely mental health support, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

“There is a space of people who aren’t at the point of needing an emergency department or who aren’t needing crisis care who are caught in this middle space,” said Jonny Morris, CEO of CMHA BC.

“Finding the right services at the right time is challenging, or there’s a wait for those services, or the service isn’t the right fit,” said Morris.

Jonny Morris is the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s B.C. dividision. (CBC News)

Hawes needs a psychiatrist for her treatment. She has been trying to connect with one throughout the four years since her diagnosis, without success. She says at one point, her doctor told her there were simply no psychiatrists taking new patients.

“I followed up, I followed up, and nothing ever followed through,” she said. “Sometimes you just want some help, and I don’t need somebody to hold my hand. I just want to feel like I’m being supported.”

The impact of having to wait for help

The gap between asking for help and connecting with the right support has had dire consequences for Hawes at several points in her mental health journey.

“It was real deep, like not knowing how you’re going to get into the next day,” she said. 

Now COVID-19 is creating a greater need for help, from a mental health care system that is already strained. Data from the CMHA gathered through an online panel suggests 37 per cent of British Columbians’ mental health has declined during the pandemic. The margin of error in the study is plus or minus 1.7 per cent at a 95 per cent level of confidence.

Lucas Britton lives with depression symptoms, and his ability to manage them was significantly hindered by the pandemic. (CBC News)

Lucas Britton is part of the group that is struggling. The University of British Columbia student lives with symptoms of depression. He was managing them successfully until he was isolated when COVID-19 restrictions came into place in 2020.

“I was in that dark, bad space, and all of the normal things I would have done to help me out weren’t available,” he said.

It took Britton a month of searching to get an appointment with a counsellor.

Funding coming for improved accessibility

The federal Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens have all promised new funding for mental health initiatives should they form government.

The B.C. NDP is investing $500 million over the next three years into mental health and addictions supports. The majority of the money will go toward initiatives related to the toxic drug crisis and nearly $100 million is dedicated to youth-focused resources. A smaller portion, $61 million, is earmarked for improving accessibility and quality of mental health supports for adults like Britton and Hawes.

Since announcing those figures in the 2021 provincial budget, the province has also dedicated several million dollars of pandemic recovery funds to improve accessibility, but B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson admits some people are being left behind.

‘There are definitely still gaps’

“There are definitely still gaps in the system,” she said. “We don’t want people to have to build to a crisis in order to get access to help.”

Hawes is now managing her bipolar symptoms, but years after she first reached out for help.

“I still have yet to have somebody who I can say is fully in my corner, from a medical perspective,” she said. 

3Sep

People with ‘invisible disabilities’ are being left out

by admin

Governments, especially at the local level, slow to adopt closed-captioning for the hard of hearing

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After years abroad, Steffani Cameron returned to Ottawa to a disappointing welcome. Despite being hearing impaired, Cameron regularly enjoyed live theatre and, to mark her homecoming, she’d planned a night at the National Arts Centre.

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But without captioning, the threads of audio that reached Cameron’s hearing aids weren’t enough for her to piece together and she struggled to understand the performance.

“I didn’t hear any of the dialogue, I missed 90 per cent of what was going on in the show,” she said. “I came home crushed. This experience that I thought was going to be my Canadian welcoming home and everything just left me … depressed.

“I mean, I saw opera in Croatia, and it was completely closed-captioned.”

Closed-captioning transcribes audio to text, both spoken words and non-speech elements such as sound effects and speaker identification.

Cameron works part-time doing captioning, seeing firsthand how captions improve the accessibility of film and television. But when attending conferences and council meetings, where captions are hardly ever offered, she is always aware of the difference they would make.

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Captioning is essential for the deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing — people like Cameron — who are nearly five per cent of the population, or 1.3 million Canadians, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada. The Canadian Association of the Deaf puts that number much higher, at 10 per cent, estimating that 3.8 million Canadians have hearing loss, with more than 380,000 estimated to be profoundly deaf.

Canadians aged 65 and older, 18 per cent of the population, are more likely to be affected, with 12.2 per cent of seniors reporting a hearing disability. Canada’s seniors will make up 23 to 25 per cent of the population by 2036, driving an even greater need for communication accessibility.

Accessibility is an issue that worries many.

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Also affected are those who speak English as a second language and those with learning difficulties.

The B.C. seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, outside Victoria city hall.
The B.C. seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, outside Victoria city hall. Photo by CHAD HIPOLITO /PNG

“An informed citizenry is necessary for democracy to flourish,” said the B.C. seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie. “It starts with not just engaging in elections — it’s engaging every day and understanding what’s going on.”

Local government affects our day-to-day lives more than the federal or provincial governments, said Mackenzie. But at the local level, communication accessibility is at its weakest.

Step 1 is the recognition of these “invisible disabilities,” she said. “We need to start pushing the envelope to have that broader understanding that a disability is more than just somebody with physical mobility limitations.”

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Vancouver, Surrey and Richmond are among B.C.’s largest municipalities, each with a large tax base, and yet none captions council meetings. Victoria, a city of just 92,000, has captioned its council meetings since 2019.

At $10,000 a year for auto-generated captioning, a fraction of Victoria’s more than $260 million budget, Mayor Lisa Helps sees its cost as far from prohibitive. In terms of accessibility, she describes it as “low-hanging fruit.”

“Closed captioning is one thing that councils can do to send the signal that the city is working on accessibility,” Helps said. “It’s really important to me as mayor because we want Victoria to be an inclusive and welcoming place — regardless of people’s ability.”

“It’s about inclusion, having a stronger and more robust democracy. Building an inclusive city creates resilience and creates diversity. And the more people we have engaged in, and able to participate in, council discussions … the better and more resilient democracy we’re going to have locally.”

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It takes time and money to address barriers to physical accessibility, Helps said, but that isn’t the case with captioning.

In Vancouver, communications manager Kirsten Langan said that captioning of council meetings is “currently being reviewed by staff” and that the process was “put on hold last year due to budget restrictions resulting from the pandemic.” In Surrey, communications project manager Amber Stowe said the city is “in the process of exploring options,” with only a few events captioned.

Commitment to hearing accessibility varies among other local decision makers, such as park and school boards, regional boards like Metro Vancouver, and transportation authorities like TransLink that all play large roles governing our daily lives.

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At Metro Vancouver, “various options for closed captioning are under consideration,” said communications specialist Greg Valou.

At TransLink, which operates across Canada’s largest single transit service area and oversees more than 250 million rider journeys annually, board meetings have been captioned at no cost through YouTube since 2016. The decision to publish to YouTube “was a natural one,” centred on the accessibility of the platform, said TransLink spokesperson Gabrielle Price. “We wanted to ensure that anyone who wants to participate could participate.”

Recent changes to federal legislation pave the way to developing accessibility standards Canada-wide, but without a clear framework for regulation and enforcement, compliance cannot be guaranteed.

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Regulation is possible. For example, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has required Canadian broadcasters to caption 100 per cent of their programming since 2007. Yet accessibility remains unregulated in many other Canadian sectors.

The 2019 federal Accessible Canada Act aims “to make Canada barrier-free by Jan. 1, 2040.” But it applies only to organizations under federal jurisdiction. And any standards set as a result of the Act are voluntary and become mandatory only if and when these standards are turned into regulation — something that could take years.

It’s all “aspirational,” Mackenzie said of the federal legislation. “It’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t get to the meat of what we are going to have to do to improve it.

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“For people with physical disabilities, we’re miles ahead of where we were 30 years ago. … So maybe the next 30 years is going to focus on these ‘invisible disabilities.’”

Carla Qualtrough, federal minister for disability inclusion, did not respond to calls.

Retired physician Hugh Jones, at age 78, has relied on hearing aids for over two decades. Before then, he “managed to limp along,” doing what was necessary to cope with his worsening hearing, such as sitting close to those speaking at meetings.

“I’m fortunate that I can afford the really sophisticated hearing aids,” he said. Their price is out of reach for many. But even with hearing aids, he still experiences barriers to accessibility due to the acoustics of some locations, a difficulty closed-captioning would help overcome.

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Provincially the schedule for ensuring accessibility regulation is little better than at the federal level. MLA Dan Coulter, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for accessibility, says that change “might be a ways off” and that “standards generally take about two years to develop.”

According to the 2021 Accessible British Columbia Act, these standards are to be developed by an 11-person provincial accessibility committee, and deadlines are loosely defined.

“There is sort of a 10-year timeline that’s laid out in the legislation,” Coulter said. “We don’t want to set up artificial deadlines for anything … there’s no possible way that we could identify every single barrier in society and say we’ll be able to remove them in 10 years.”

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To Coulter, the B.C. law enables further steps. “It’s like a skeleton and now (the B.C. government) needs to put meat on the bones.”

But Gabrielle Peters, who calls herself a disabled writer and consultant, said not enough is being done.

Peters was contracted by the Broadbent Institute to do a report to help develop the accessibility legislation in B.C. But when the Accessible British Columbia Act was introduced in April and passed in June, she didn’t see her work reflected in the legislation.

The most important parts of accessibility legislation — clearly defined deadlines and enforcement mechanisms — remain weak, she said.

The Act does allow for inspections and fines for non-compliance. The extent of enforcement is vague, compliance is mandated only for the provincial government and “prescribed” organizations, there is no mechanism for complaints to be submitted by the public and there are no timelines for implementation.

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“What’s the point? It’s like a wish. It’s like, you might as well open your window and look for a shooting star to wish on,” said Peters.

The Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility, formerly the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, works to eliminate communication barriers across B.C.

CEO Christopher Sutton of Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility.
CEO Christopher Sutton of Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

“Legislation doesn’t exist in every province or every jurisdiction,” said Wavefront CEO Christopher Sutton, “so there is not really a lot of consistency.”

Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, the oldest legislation of its kind in Canada, establishing the goal of achieving provincewide accessibility by 2025 and requiring Ontario businesses and non-profits submit compliance reports every three years. Manitoba, in 2013, and Nova Scotia, in 2017, followed suit, passing their own accessibility acts.

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“When I’ve worked with municipalities on accessibility, the people that are working on those portfolios, very knowledgeable, very excited, they’re passionate about it,” said Sutton. “But getting it up to the city, the general manager or the city manager, or the budget makers, that’s the challenge. … At the end of the day, a lot of people see the cost for accommodations to be very burdensome, but generally it isn’t.”

YouTube offers free auto-generated captioning, though the quality can be poor if not monitored and edited. Other providers offer auto-generated captioning, supplemented by artificial-intelligence software, for about $10,000 a year. Human-generated, real-time captioning costs $150 an hour or more.

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“We need to incorporate accessibility as a budget line item. … It’s a cost of doing business,” Sutton said.

New Westminster city councillor Nadine Nakagawa.
New Westminster city councillor Nadine Nakagawa. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

In January 2020, New Westminster Coun. Nadine Nakagawa tried to bring closed captioning before her council as part of a motion to address a range of accessibility issues. She worries that, if left to the discretion of municipal governments, changes will be less likely to occur.

“And If we’re waiting for people from the disabled community to raise this, we’re functionally excluding them from being able to be a part of community discussions to start with,” she said. “It’s a way that the status quo replicates itself.”

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, priorities shifted. Nakagawa’s motion was set aside.

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Accessibility of local government is also of concern to immigrant settlement groups, but they are more concerned with language accessibility. To the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., doing away with lesser-known acronyms and government jargon would increase accessibility across the board.

In 2019, Canada welcomed more than 341,000 new permanent residents. And, some 21.9 per cent of the population had immigrant or permanent resident status in 2016, according to StatsCan.

“What would help more than anything else is a commitment from the (city) councillors, who are doing the speaking, to speak in plain language,” said Lisa Herrera, lead instructional coordinator for the society.

When barriers to accessibility are removed, everyone benefits, she said: “If you make something accessible to the people who have the disability, or the people that would have trouble with accessibility, you actually make it more accessible for everybody.”

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To people such as Steffani Cameron, the changes needed are clear — and clearly beneficial to all.

“If we’re making it so that it’s only easy for people who are perfectly healthy … then our society is being geared to those people as well, because you’re not hearing everybody who needs to have their voice heard,” she said.

“Until you mandate it, people don’t do it. Nobody’s going to do it unless it’s profitable, and it isn’t profitable to (care) about the hearing impaired.”

Tyson Burrows is a 2021 recipient of the Langara College Read-Mercer Journalism Fellowship. This story was produced through the Fellowship.

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