Today’s coronavirus news: B.C. announces priority groups for COVID booster shots; Panel

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

7:15 p.m.: Louisiana is ending its statewide indoor mask mandate after emerging from its latest and worst coronavirus spike of the pandemic and seeing a sharp decline in new COVID-19 infections, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday.

The decision marks one of the first mask mandates enacted for the delta variant-fueled outbreak to be scrapped.

“I stand here today optimistic, relieved that the worst of the fourth surge is very clearly behind us now,” Edwards said.

But while the Democratic governor is lifting the mask requirement for grocery stores, restaurants, bars and other sites, he’s keeping some face-covering rules in place for Louisiana’s K-12 schools. Edwards said children have greater exposure risks, with students under 12 unable to yet get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

School districts that maintain tight quarantine regulations for students who come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 won’t be required to have a mask mandate. Those districts that don’t require all exposed students to be sent home will have to keep students masked up.

The new regulations take effect Wednesday.

Despite the governor’s decision, Louisiana State University said it will keep its indoor mask mandate through the end of the semester. New Orleans also indicated it won’t necessarily follow Edwards’ lead.

Edwards reinstated the mask mandate in August, when Louisiana had the nation’s highest per capita COVID-19 infection growth and hospitals were inundated.

Since then, new cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically, and Louisiana now has one of the nation’s lowest rates of new infections.

Still, Louisiana continues to have one of the lowest coronavirus immunization rates in the country — with only 47% of the state’s population fully vaccinated.

“We will remain vulnerable in Louisiana to another surge until we can get more of our friends, family and neighbors vaccinated,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser.

6:30 p.m.: British Columbia says it will offer booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine to its entire population, making it one of the first North American jurisdictions to commit to doing so —and setting a potential precedent for other provinces.

All double-vaccinated British Columbians will be invited to book a third vaccine appointment at least six months after their second dose, starting in January, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday.

Some immunocompromised people, Indigenous populations and seniors over 70 will be invited to book a booster dose as soon as this month.

The definition of being “fully-vaccinated” for the province’s vaccine passport program will remain two doses.

Read the full story here: B.C. to offer COVID vaccine boosters for all in ‘precedent-setting’ move

6:20 p.m.: Toronto Public Health has declared outbreaks at Amesbury Middle School and St. Mary of the Angels Catholic School after identifying two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases at each school. Both schools remain open.

“We’re carefully investigating & following our process of working w/our school community to notify close contacts & ask them to stay home, monitor for symptoms & get tested,” the agency tweeted Tuesday.

There are 614 schools in Ontario with a reported case of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Two schools are currently closed.

5:37 p.m.: Health authorities in Quebec’s northernmost region are restricting travel amid an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections in the area.

Dr. Marie Rochette, the director of public health in Nunavik, ordered the suspension of flights between the region’s two coasts — on Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay — on Tuesday.

Travel in and out of the region for non-essential purposes has also been restricted due to “the rapid evolution of the transmission of COVID-19 in the communities of Nunavik” and “the importance of community transmission in some communities, especially those on the Ungava coast,” according to the health order.

This is the first time there has been widespread community transmission of the virus in the region, according to the health board.

“Up to now, the individuals who tested positive were travellers. These persons have been quickly identified by the entry management protocol, so the risk has been rapidly controlled,” Kathleen Poulin, a spokeswoman for the regional health board wrote in an email. “However, some of the recent cases are not linked to travel.”

Poulin said the health board has detected 27 new cases in the region, bringing the total number of active cases in Nunavik to 96. She said there have been confirmed cases in six communities, along with evidence of community transmission in a seventh community.

There are also nine cases linked to a facility in Montreal that provides support, including accommodations, for people from Nunavik who have to travel south for medical appointments, Poulin said.

Five communities have been placed under the red alert level, with non-essential services closed and private gatherings banned. A curfew is in effect in some of those communities.

According to Quebec’s public health institute, there are 721.6 active cases per 100,000 people in Nunavik, making it the most affected part of the province on a per-capita basis. Provincewide, there are 44.8 active cases per 100,000 people.

The provincial Health Department reports one person is in hospital due to COVID-19 in Nunavik. There have been no deaths linked to the virus in the region since the beginning of the pandemic.

Nunavik has the lowest vaccination rate against COVID-19 in the province, according to the Institut national de santé publique du Québec. The institute said 66.7 per cent of people 12 and over in the region have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 87.6 per cent of all Quebec residents 12 and over.

Across the province, 340 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Tuesday, along with four additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus. The Health Department said 259 people were in hospital, unchanged from the day before, and 66 people were in intensive care, a decline of three.

4:50 p.m.: British Columbia’s top doctor says COVID-19 booster shots will be prioritized for front-line health-care workers, rural Indigenous Peoples and those over 70 because they’re at highest risk of experiencing breakthrough infections.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says those groups and people who are most immunocompromised were vaccinated first and are getting to the point of waning immunity just ahead of flu season.

She says the third dose will be given to those residents until December as part of a program already underway and appointment bookings will be offered based on the time since their second dose, typically six to eight months.

Henry says the most clinically vulnerable people and health-care workers will be eligible for booster shots starting in January.

The provincial health officer says she’s optimistic that a third dose may provide years of protection against the virus based on the long intervals between shots to optimize the benefits of vaccination.

A plan to start vaccinating children between five and 11 is also expected to begin pending Health Canada approval, though parents can already register their kids to get immunized.

4:30 p.m.: A panel of U.S. health advisers on Tuesday endorsed kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, moving the U.S. closer to beginning vaccinations in children ages 5 to 11.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously with one abstention that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 in that age group outweigh any potential risks — including a heart-related side effect that’s been very rare in teens and young adults who get a much higher dose.

The FDA isn’t bound by the panel’s recommendation and is expected to make its own decision within days.

If the FDA authorizes the kid-size doses, there’s still another step: Next week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to decide whether to recommend the shots and which youngsters should get them.

While children are at lower risk of severe COVID-19 than older people, 5- to 11-year-olds still have faced substantial illness — including over 8,300 hospitalizations reported, about a third requiring intensive care, and nearly 100 deaths.

The dose for young children is just one-third of the Pfizer shot already recommended for everyone 12 and older. Moderna also is studying its vaccine for young children.

4:13 p.m.: Daily COVID-19 cases are steadily declining and most businesses have reopened to normal capacity, but Premier Doug Ford says the pandemic is not over yet.

“(It’s) something I hope, but no one can predict the end of this,” Ford told reporters Tuesday during a campaign-style swing through Ottawa.

In his…

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