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The U.S. is conducting millions more rapid coronavirus tests, but are results reported? – National

After struggling to ramp up coronavirus testing, the U.S. can now screen several million people daily, thanks to a growing supply of rapid tests. But the boom comes with a new challenge: keeping track of the results.

All U.S. testing sites are legally required to report their results, positive and negative, to public health agencies. But state health officials say many rapid tests are going unreported, which means some new COVID-19 infections may not be counted.

And the situation could get worse, experts say. The federal government is shipping more than 100 million of the newest rapid tests to states for use in public schools, assisted living centres and other new testing sites.

Read more:
U.S. to ship millions of coronavirus tests in effort to reopen schools through 12th grade

“Schools certainly don’t have the capacity to report these tests,” said Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “If it’s done at all it’s likely going to be paper-based, very slow and incomplete.”

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Early in the outbreak, nearly all U.S. testing relied on genetic tests that could only be developed at high-tech laboratories. Even under the best circumstances, people had to wait about two to three days to get results. Experts pushed for more “point-of-care” rapid testing that could be done in doctors offices, clinics and other sites to quickly find people who are infected, get them into quarantine and stop the spread.

Beginning in the summer, cheaper, 15-minute tests — which detect viral proteins called antigens on a nasal swab — became available. The first versions still needed to be processed using portable readers. The millions of new tests from Abbott Laboratories now going out to states are even easier to use: they’re about the size of a credit card and can be developed with a few drops of chemical solution.

Federal health officials say about half of the nation’s daily testing capacity now consists of rapid tests.

Click to play video 'Is rapid testing the solution to Canada’s 2nd wave?'

Is rapid testing the solution to Canada’s 2nd wave?

Is rapid testing the solution to Canada’s 2nd wave?

Large hospitals and laboratories electronically feed their results to state health departments, but there is no standardized way to report the rapid tests that are often done elsewhere. And state officials have often been unable to track where these tests are being shipped and whether results are being reported.

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In Minnesota, officials created a special team to try and get more testing data from nursing homes, schools and other newer testing sites, only to be deluged by faxes and paper files.

“It’s definitely a challenge because now we have to do many more things manually than we were with electronic reporting,” said Kristen Ehresmann, of the Minnesota Department of Health.

Even before Abbott’s newest rapid tests hit the market last month, undercounting was a concern.

Read more:
Health Canada approves rapid coronavirus test after feds put 7.9M on order

Competitors Quidel and Becton Dickinson have together shipped well over 35 million of their own quick tests since June. But that massive influx of tests hasn’t showed up in national testing numbers, which have mostly ranged between 750,000 and 950,000 daily tests for months.

Besides tallying new cases, COVID-19 testing numbers are used to calculate a key metric on the outbreak: percentage of tests positive for COVID-19. The World Health Organization recommends countries test enough people to drive their per cent of positives below 5 per cent. And the U.S. has mostly been hovering around or below that rate since mid-September, a point that President Donald Trump and his top aides have touted to argue that the nation has turned the corner on the outbreak. The figure is down from a peak of 22 per cent in April.

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But some disease-tracking specialists are skeptical. Engel said his group’s members think they aren’t getting all the results.

“So it may be a false conclusion,” he said.

Click to play video 'Canada signs deal to buy 7.9 million rapid COVID-19 tests'

Canada signs deal to buy 7.9 million rapid COVID-19 tests

Canada signs deal to buy 7.9 million rapid COVID-19 tests

One of the challenges to an accurate count: States have wildly different approaches. Some states lump all types of tests together in one report, some don’t tabulate the quick antigen tests at all and others don’t publicize their system. Because antigen tests are more prone to false negatives and sometimes require retesting, most health experts say they should be recorded and analyzed separately. Currently only 10 states do that and post the results online, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The federal government is allocating the tests to states based on their population, rather than helping them develop a strategy based on the size and severity of their outbreaks.

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“That’s just lazy” said Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University. “Most states won’t have the expertise to figure out how to use these most appropriately.”

Read more:
Millions of coronavirus rapid tests won’t arrive for months: Health Canada

Instead, Mina said the federal government should direct the limited supplies to key hot spots around the country, driving down infections in the hardest-hit communities. Keeping tighter control would also ensure test results are quickly reported.

Johns Hopkins University researcher Gigi Gronvall agrees health officials need to carefully consider where and when to deploy the tests. Eventually, methods for tracking the tests will catch up, she said.

“I think having the tools to determine if someone is infectious is a higher priority,” she said.


AP data journalist Nicky Forster contributed to this story

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Tanzanian miner finds third rare tanzanite gem worth millions after record haul

A small-scale miner from Tanzania made another record discovery of one of the world’s rarest gemstone this month, hauling in a precious, 14-pound stone valued at $2 million, according to a report.

Saniniu Laizer, 52, became an overnight millionaire in June after he sold two violet-blue tanzanite gemstones said to be the largest ever found in the country. Weighing a total of 33 pounds, he sold them for 7.74 billion Tanzanian shillings ($3.4 million U.S. dollars).

Laizer announced he would slaughter one of his 2,000 cows, have a big party, and invest in the local community after finding the two record stones earlier this summer, according to the BBC.


“There will be a big party tomorrow,” said Laizer, from the Manyara region. “I want to build a shopping mall and a school. I want to build this school near my home. There are many poor people around here who can’t afford to take their children to school.”

“I am not educated but I like things run in a professional way. So I would like my children to run the business professionally,” he continued.

The BBC reported that he has four wives and more than 30 children.

Saniniu Laizer poses with two rough Tanzanite stones back in June, said to be the largest ever found in the country.

Saniniu Laizer poses with two rough Tanzanite stones back in June, said to be the largest ever found in the country.

While a party isn’t on his schedule this time around, Laizer said on Monday he would continue with his dream in using the money to build a school, as well as a health facility in his community — located in the northern Manyara region.


Tanzanite is said to be a gemstone found only in the northern region of the country. It’s reportedly used to make ornaments — with its rarity defined by how clear or well defined the color is.

Tanzania President John Magufuli had ordered the military to build a wall surrounding a Manyara mining site in 2017 — believed to be the world’s only source of tanzanite — with its supply estimated to be depleted within 20 years, a geologist told the news organization.

Last year, Tanzania set up trading centers to allow artisanal miners, like Laizer, to sell their gems and gold to the government. Many reportedly mine by hand without any affiliation to mining companies. Following his recent discovery, Laizer encouraged other small scale miners to work for the government.


“Selling to the government means there are no shortcuts,” he said during a ceremony celebrating his find in the northern Mirerani mine, according to the BBC. “They are transparent.”

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A COVID-quiet summer will cost Montreal’s economy hundreds of millions

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Industry figures for 2009, the last year that the Grand Prix didn’t take place, show Montreal hotels suffered a $25-million revenue shortfall compared with other race weekends, Paré said.

Occupancy rates in Montreal typically average 96 or 97 per cent during Grand Prix weekend. City hotels double their room rates to coincide with the event, allowing them to offset slower winter bookings.

“If you convert that $25 million into 2020 dollars, and if you consider that additional seats have since been installed at the racetrack, the shortfall this year is going to be even higher,” Paré said.

As more events in and around Montreal get cancelled, those lost weekends — and weeks — look set to multiply well into the summer. On Tuesday, event promoter Evenko officially cancelled this year’s edition of the Osheaga and ÎleSoniq electronic music festivals. Both events will be back in 2021, Evenko said.

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New provincial rules for development charges could cost the city millions: Toronto officials

New provincial rules for what cities can charge developers that kick in Jan. 1 contain legal loopholes that could cost the city millions of dollars, Toronto officials say.

To try to prevent some of the potential problems introduced with the province’s sweeping Bill 108 legislation, Toronto’s city council on Wednesday approved measures the city’s chief planner Gregg Lintern described as a financial “bridge.”

A motion moved at council Wednesday by Mayor John Tory’s affordable housing advocate Coun. Ana Bailao (Ward 9 Davenport) asks the province to delay proclamation of changes to the development charges rules until January 2021 to give the city and province more time to work out any issues.

“Development charges ensure that needed infrastructure to support new developments are costs assumed by developers,” Bailao said in a statement. “Development must pay for development. On January 1st, 2020 the province will bring into force further provisions of Bill 108 dealing with development charges that could potentially create loopholes costing city taxpayers millions of dollars. We need to ensure that before any legislation comes into effect, we close any of these loopholes and protect the City and its taxpayers from having to bear these costs.”

On Thursday, in a letter to heads of council obtained by the Star, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said they would be going ahead with the changes to development charges as planned on Jan. 1 and reiterated that Bill 108 is meant to help speed up the creation of new housing amid a continuing crisis.

The bill, introduced earlier this year, is called the More Homes, More Choice Act. It amends 13 separate pieces of existing legislation, including the Planning Act and the Development Charges Act.

Municipal critics have said the need to build more housing shouldn’t and doesn’t need to come at the expense of building livable neighbourhoods.

Development charges are one of several tools cities have to ensure the principle is met that “growth pays for growth.” They are fees charged to developers to help pay the capital costs of roads, sewers, libraries and other infrastructure.

Bill 108 changed the timing of when development charges are due, from when building permits are issued to when the developer first makes a development application, which is much earlier in the process. The rate will also be frozen for two years after planning approvals are received.The rate will also be frozen for two years after planning approvals are received.

That, city staff said in a May report to council, could have “significant financial implications” for the city with developers avoiding rate increases by locking-in a rate earlier.

The new legislation also allows developers to defer full payment for several years on certain types of applications, such as for rental housing.

Deferred payment, the city staff report said, is “effectively an unsecured loan from municipalities to developers with potential municipal exposure to collection administration and risk.”

In his letter, the minister said the government has been consulting with municipalities and values their input.

“We recognize that municipalities may incur some additional costs as a result of these requirements, and, for that reason, the legislation provides authority for municipalities to charge interest to cover costs associated with the deferral and the freeze. In addition, a maximum interest rate will not be prescribed,” the letter says.

The motion approved by council Wednesday gave staff the authority, if the date of the new rules coming into force was not moved, to charge interest of 1.5 per cent per month for applications received on or after Jan. 1 with a goal of breaking even when compared to the old system.

It also asks staff to charge additional interest on applications where payment is deferred if the applicant doesn’t provide “satisfactory” financial security, such as a letter of credit.

“We understand where the province wants to get,” Bailao said. “We just need to make sure we work together on a process that gets us those results and avoids any unintended consequences. We will continue to work with the province on all aspects of this legislation to ensure growth is paying for growth and we are building great communities.”

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Dave Wilkes, president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association, representing more than 1,500 industry members in the GTA, said they are aware of the motion and “consulting with legal council to determine its validity.”

“BILD and its membership are supportive of the spirit and intent of Bill 108. Freezing development charges at the time of the planning application allows for cost certainty and predictability for the end consumer when purchasing a new home or condo. This is entirely positive.”

With files from Robert Benzie

Jennifer Pagliaro
Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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B.C. subsidizes fossil fuels to tune of hundreds of millions annually, according to study

B.C.’s provincial government provided at least $830 million in subsidies in 2017-18 for the production and consumption of fossil fuels, according to a new report out of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.


B.C.’s provincial government provided at least $830 million in subsidies in 2017-18 for the production and consumption of fossil fuels, according to a new report out of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The province’s subsidies are complicated and extensive, often overlooked and not always transparent, and they amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in public cash annually in support of activities that contribute to climate change, the authors of the report found.

Vanessa Corkal, one of the authors of the study, titled Locked In and Losing Out, explained that the report took on B.C. not to single out the province, but rather to get a full sense of the types of provincial fossil fuel subsidies that exist in Canada and that effectively hold back the country’s ability to move forward on its climate goals.

“Much like in the Paris Agreement we need all countries to work together, in Canada we need all provinces and territories to work together with the federal government to deal with this issue,” Corkal said Sunday.

“As long as fossil fuel subsidies exist, it’s going to hold us back from really making lots of progress on climate change.”

B.C.’s subsidies take the form of provincial tax exemptions, royalty reductions, and direct spending commitments, the report found.

Royalty credit programs, which reduce the amount of cash companies must pay to the government, account for the majority of the subsidies, according to the report. In 2018-19, the total amount of allowable royalty reductions hit $631 million, it found. That was up from $447 million in the prior fiscal year. In all, B.C. has at least $2.6 to $3.2 billion in outstanding royalty credits from fossil fuel producers, according to the report.

In 2017-18, at least $268 million in fossil fuel subsidies came through provincial tax exemptions, according to the study. A large proportion of those subsidies were directed at consumers, but others benefited producers. B.C. also provided direct spending supports for compressed natural gas, LNG and even coal mining, according to the authors.

The report included as an annex a four-page list of other provincial fossil fuel subsidies that the authors could not quantify due to lack of publicly available data.

Tzeporah Berman, the International Program Director at advocacy group, said she was surprised by the amount of subsidies the province was providing and shocked that they had increased under the NDP-Green coalition government.

“I track these issues every day. I follow these issues and have been for years. I knew that there were subsidies. I had no idea that we were literally giving up billions of dollars that could be spent in B.C. towards transportation or education or housing in order to support the growth of the most polluting industries,” she said Sunday.

Berman said her group planned to send copies of the report to every MLA in the province and to request meetings with the government.

Fossil fuel subsidies run counter to provincial policies that seek to reduce B.C.’s production of greenhouse gases, and they come at a cost to other programs and industries, according to the report.

“They pull vital government resources away from effective climate change strategies, not to mention other important priorities such as healthcare and education. This means that other sectors of the economy must compensate for the vast amounts of government revenue spent on subsidies — which is neither fair nor efficient,” it stated.

The authors made several recommendations, including publicly releasing all data related to government spending on fossil fuel subsidies each year. They also recommended the government create an action plan to end the subsidies, coordinate its subsidy reform efforts with the federal government, and avoid creating new ones.

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