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Institutions and events consider masking requirements amongst summer COVID-19 surge

Institutions and events consider masking requirements amongst summer COVID-19 surge

A New Brunswick university will continue its campus mask mandate this fall.

Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., says masks will continue to be mandatory inside buildings, but won’t be required outside.

In a letter to students and staff, the university says exceptions to wearing a mask inside will include faculty who are teaching, students who are making a presentation, anyone sitting in the library or designated study space, as well as anyone participating in sports, fitness, or arts performances.

In an interview Thursday, Mount Allison president and vice-chancellor Jean-Paul Boudreau said the “low risk, high reward” decision was an easy one to make.

“This was the right call for our university, our community,” said Boudreau. “We had a very strong Mount Allison-Sackville bubble as we referred to it as. And that was really a strong commitment from our community, our faculty, our staff, and our students to be safe.”

“We appreciate that of course cases are increasing in New Brunswick and elsewhere. We know that the BA.5 variant is of concern not just in our community but beyond our borders.”

The University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University, and Université de Moncton haven’t announced what, if any, masking policies may be in place this fall.

Mount Allison announced it would also be reaching out to new students to ask for their vaccination status, but noted the sharing of that information would be voluntary.

Mount Allison was the first university in the Maritimes to announce a campus-wide vaccination policy last summer. Post-secondary institutions around the region later implemented similar vaccination policies.


New Brunswick’s indoor masking policy came to an end in March.

Some events and organizations — including post-secondary institutions — kept the masking requirement in place.

Indoor events scheduled at next month’s Fredericton Pride will have masking requirements.

Fredericton Pride board member Brianna Matchett said chronically ill and immunocompromised individuals haven’t been able to participate in many other gatherings since the provincial mask mandate was lifted.

“I think people are appreciative of the fact there’s going to be spaces in the city where people, who’ve been excluded from a lot of events recently, will have a place to go,” said Matchett.

Medical grade air purifiers will also be used at Fredericton Pride’s indoor events. KN-95 masks will be provided at no cost for events happening indoors and outdoors, and areas will be cordoned off at outdoor events where masking will be required.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Anna Banerji said COVID-19 transmission risks were lower outside, but not impossible particularly in crowded situations.

“And I think that’s where people use their discretion,” said Banerji, in an interview Thursday with CTV’s Your Morning.

The increase this summer in COVID-19 cases should put masking policies back on the table for some environments, according to Banerji.

“We thought that this summer that COVID would really go down, that we wouldn’t have another peak. But things are changing,” said Banerji. “Many people I know are getting COVID again or for the first time, so the whole environment is changing. A lot of people haven’t had their boosters in a long time.”

Banerji said masking mandates for certain crowded indoor situations, like public transportation, should be considered.

“Or certain places where you had vulnerable people, it would make sense to have mask mandates,” said Banerji. “I’m not saying in general, but I think where there are vulnerabilities.”

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Pride events targeted in surge of anti-LGBTQ threats, violence

Pride events targeted in surge of anti-LGBTQ threats, violence
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The surge in right-wing hate-mongering against LGBTQ people is spilling into violence, with high-profile attacks this month casting fear over Pride celebrations throughout the country.

Extremism researchers have long warned of an escalating risk as hard-right Republicans and militant groups portray LGBTQ people as “groomers” targeting children, along with other baseless smears. Now, provocateurs are acting on those messages in what President Biden last month called “rising hate and violence” targeting LGBTQ communities.

The attacks have intensified this month during the first big Pride events since pandemic restrictions were lifted, most notably with the white nationalist Patriot Front’s foiled attempt to disrupt a celebration in northern Idaho.

In recent days, right-wing politicians and preachers have openly called for killing LGBTQ people. On a conservative talk show, Mark Burns, a Donald Trump-allied congressional candidate from South Carolina, called “LGBT, transgender grooming” a national security threat and proposed using treason laws as the basis for “executing” parents and teaches who advocate for LGBTQ rights. In Texas last Sunday, a pastor railed against Pride month and said LGBTQ people “should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head.”

A study released Thursday signals these are not isolated incidents. Anti-LGBTQ activity including demonstrations and attacks increased more than four times from 2020 to 2021, from 15 incidents to 61, according to the global nonprofit conflict-monitoring group known as ACLED. As of early June, ACLED counted 33 anti-LGBTQ incidents so far this year, indicating an even bleaker 2022.

The resulting fear is a common theme in social media posts by LGBTQ people describing palpable changes in their collective sense of security. Hateful looks. Ugly slurs. Vandalized rainbow flags.

Baltimore authorities this week are investigating two separate fires on the same block — one at a house where a Pride flag was set on fire, and another across the street at a home decorated for Pride, according to local news reports. Three people were injured in one of the fires.

A generation of LGBTQ advocates hopes the clock isn’t ticking backward

Analysts draw a direct link from hateful political speech to attacks on the ground. The ACLED report notes that the rise in violence comes as “right-wing politicians and media outlets have mainstreamed the use of increasingly inflammatory rhetoric against the LGBT+ community.”

Trans people have been particularly targeted. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, says the past year saw record violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Women of color, especially Black trans women, were the most frequent targets.

In that same time frame, state legislators introduced more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills, many of them designed to stop transgender youths from participating in sports. At least 24 of the bills were enacted, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, giving anti-LGBTQ activism “one of its most successful years” in terms of legislation.

The LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD said that political hate speech was leading to violence in a statement issued after the arrests in Idaho. The group said “anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and the nearly 250 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year are responsible for this dangerous climate,” along with tech platforms that are “fueling the hate and misinformation that inspire white supremacist groups like the Patriot Front.”

Targets have said the attacks are unnerving even when they don’t involve physical violence.

In San Lorenzo, Calif., on Saturday, a group of suspected Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, interrupted a drag queen storytelling hour by screaming anti-LGBTQ slurs in an incident authorities are investigating as a hate crime. In an interview with Teen Vogue, event host Kyle Chu, whose drag name is Panda Dulce, described up to 10 Proud Boys marching in, including one in a T-shirt emblazoned with a gun and the words “Kill your local pedophile.”

“We stopped the song and the Proud Boys … started hurling insults, calling me a pedophile and a groomer,” Chu said in the interview, adding that she was taken to a safe room as organizers called authorities. Chu summed up the incident as “terrifying.”

In Arlington, Tex., Proud Boys were among the protesters who showed up to a drag brunch that was for an over-21 crowd. Amateur video of the incident shared online by LGBTQ activists showed protesters screaming anti-gay slurs in their targets’ faces. One man was filmed acknowledging that he was blocking the brunch participants’ entry, saying he was conducting a “citizen’s arrest.”

Extremism monitors at the Anti-Defamation League tracked seven in-person extremist activities targeting LGBTQ people over the past weekend, according to an ADL summary of the recent threats. The summary included a June 12 Pride event in Georgia that was canceled because of anonymous threats “targeting the rally’s location, time and date.” In a separate incident the next day, according to the ADL, white supremacists in New Jersey protested a drag event during a Pride celebration, “with one individual displaying a sign reading, ‘Hands off kids.’”

The intimidation also has led to moments of defiance, as in North Carolina, where threats of violence prompted organizers to cancel a drag queen storytelling event at Pride in Apex, a suburb of the capital, Raleigh. Local news reports said town officials had received complaints and that the festival’s chairman was warned that he and his family “will be harmed” if the event took place.

Outraged, an advocacy group called Equality North Carolina stepped in to sponsor Apex Pride and reinstate the story hour. The group said in a statement that LGBTQ people would fight attempts “to invade our spaces, to silence us, to disperse us, and limit our freedom to be ourselves in our community.”

Several of the incidents illustrate what the ACLED report called “cross-pollination opportunities,” the coalescing of disparate right-wing factions around common targets such as critical race theory, pandemic-era lockdowns and abortion access. These days, anti-LGBTQ activism has jumped to the top of that list.

How World War II Led to Washington’s First Outing

The report noted that a June 4 demonstration against a drag show in Dallas brought together “self-proclaimed ‘Christian Fascists,’ adherents to the QAnon conspiracy movement” and several other extremist factions.

“They’re actually building solidarity and the left is not,” said Eric Stanley, an associate professor of gender and women’s studies at University of California at Berkeley.

For Stanley, also a community organizer, the issue is personal. Menacing emails arrive every week. Stanley is always on the lookout for unfamiliar faces among students, wondering “who’s going to film you, who’s going to storm the classroom, who’s going to attack you.”

“In the last few years, I definitely think about, ‘Where are the exits? Is it too high to jump out of this window?’ ” said Stanley, who teaches trans studies classes.

Still, Stanley doesn’t want the current danger “used as justification to hire more police, put more police at Pride, put more police in schools.”

Whether — or to what extent — to work with law enforcement agencies is a contested topic as LGBTQ advocates figure out how to respond. Stanley belongs to the camp that rejects partnering with police because of law enforcement’s longtime patterns of discrimination and violence.

Other organizations have close ties to law enforcement officials, but acknowledge the frictions.

“With everything that’s happened in the Black Lives Matter movement and the distrust of police, it’s this really hard, fine line to navigate,” said Jeff Mack, executive vice president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a LGBTQ nonprofit group that supports victims of hate crimes.

Those who favor working with police were encouraged that Idaho authorities arrested dozens of masked members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front before they could disrupt a Pride event Saturday in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The city’s police chief said the group, piled into the back of a U-Haul, had an “operations plan” for Pride and gear such as shin guards, shields, helmets, at least one smoke grenade and long metal poles.

The 31 men charged with misdemeanor conspiracy to riot came from at least 11 states, including Colorado, a point that was noted on a Denver Pride planning call Monday, two days after the Idaho incident.

Mack said he and other Hate Free Colorado organizers were in “disbelief” and couldn’t help but wonder what they might face in Denver later this month. Still, there was no question of scaling back.

“We are not going to let them win and we are going to take every precaution to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mack said. “We all acknowledge that we just need to be hypervigilant and hyperaware, but we’re not going to let them take away our celebration of who we are.”

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Superspreader events blamed for monkeypox surge – follow live

Superspreader events blamed for monkeypox surge - follow live

UK Government is cautious but not ‘concerned’ about Monkeypox outbreak

A British minister has insisted monkeypox is not a “repeat of Covid” as he attempted to quell fears.

Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said the virus “certainly does not appear to be anywhere near the same platform of seriousness” as the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also mentioned the fact there was already a vaccine available that works for monkeypox as he spoke to media on Monday morning.

It comes as the UK braces for more cases to be announced on top of the current tally of 20.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has confirmed 92 confirmed cases of monkeypox around the world – including Europe and the US – and another 28 suspected infections.

This tally does not include cases in Israel, Switzerland and Austria that were announced later.

Monkeypox – which belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but gives milder symptoms – is rarely identified outside of Africa.


Superspreader events likely behind global surge in cases, expert says

An infectious diseases expert has said superspreader events are likely behind the global surge in monkeypox cases.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of Wellcome, said there have been small outbreaks in the past with cases in the UK – but “something has changed” with this one.

“The virus may have changed, but I think that’s unlikely,” he told BBC Radio 4’sToday programme.

“More likely is, I think, that the niche that this virus now finds itself in has allowed for some superspreader events and those individuals involved in that have then travelled to other parts of the world and taken the infection with them.”

He said the fact the virus has “spread across borders so quickly” is different from what has happened before.

Additional reporting by PA

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 10:47


Opinion: The public health threat of a ‘toxic relationship’ with animals

“When will we learn?” Julia Baines from Peta UK asks.

“Now that monkeypox has been detected in Canada, Portugal, Spain, the UK, and the US, we should accept that our toxic relationship with animals is sleepwalking us into disaster.”

Read her take on the spread of monkeypox here:

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 10:12


What has been the trajectory in the England?

7 May: One case confirmed in England. Patients had recently travelled to Nigeria where they were believed to have picked the virus up.

14 May: Two people who live together in London confirmed as having monkeypox.

16 May: Four more cases confirmed: three in London and one in the North East.

18 May: Two more cases confirmed: one in London, the other in the South East.

20 May: Eleven more cases in England confirmed.

Another announcement on monkeypox cases expected later today. Stay tuned for more.

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 09:43


ICYMI: Scientists ‘stunned’ by global spread

Experts who have monitored previous outbreaks of monkeypox have said they are “stunned” by the recent spread of the virus in Europe and North America.

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 09:24


Watch: UK minister denies Covid comparison

Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, has said monkeypox is not a “repeat” of the Covid pandemic.

Watch his make the comments here:

UK Government is cautious but not ‘concerned’ about Monkeypox outbreak

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 09:04


UK tally expected to increase today

The UK is expected to announce an increase on its 20 confirmed cases of monkeypox later today.

It comes after a senior doctor warned new cases were being reported every day.

Furvah Shah reports on the situation in the UK:

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 08:49


UK minister says Monkeypox not ‘some repeat of Covid’

Monkeypox is not a “repeat of” Covid-19, a UK government minister has assured.

“As with any new disease, and obviously after the Covid pandemic doubly so, we continue to monitor this very closely,” Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News.

“I would say I am cautious but I am certainly not concerned about our ability to handle the situation.

“There is a vaccine which is available and works for monkeypox, and all the evidence is that it is spread by physical contact.

Mr Clarke added: “What I would say is we are cautious but we are certainly not in a position where I would in anyway worry the public that this is some repeat of Covid, because it certainly does not appear to be anywhere near the same platform of seriousness.”

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 08:06


Joe Biden says US stockpiles are ‘enough’

Joe Biden has also said the smallpox vaccine works for monkeypox.

Asked whether the US has enough stockpiles of that vaccine to handle the monkeypox spread, the US president said: “I think we do have enough to deal with the likelihood of a problem.”

Joe Biden says the US stockpiles are ‘enough’ to deal with monkeypox threat

(AFP via Getty Images)

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 08:00


Joe Biden seeks to calm monkeypox concerns

The US president has sought to calm concerns about recent cases of monkeypox around the globe.

Joe Biden said at the weekend the virus was something “to be concerned about”.

He has now clarified: “I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with Covid-19.”

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 07:46


Monkeypox explained

Here is a quick reminder about what we know about monkeypox so far:

Zoe Tidman23 May 2022 07:33

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Naperville News Digest: Park district releases dates of golf tourney events; Will County holding three recycling events; blood drive to honor two men killed in concert surge

Naperville News Digest: Park district releases dates of golf tourney events; Will County holding three recycling events; blood drive to honor two men killed in concert surge

Naperville News Digest: Park district releases dates of golf tourney events; Will County holding three recycling events; blood drive to honor two men killed in concert surge  Chicago Tribune

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Wedding and event bookings surge as pandemic restrictions ease

Wedding and event bookings surge as pandemic restrictions ease

People who work in the wedding and events industry are seeing a surge in bookings thanks to upcoming changes to pandemic restrictions.

Starting March 1, indoor venues like event halls can operate at full capacity. Proof of vaccination will no longer be required but the mask mandate will remain.

“That gives our staff confidence. Knowing that business is coming back,” said Bingemans owner Mark Bingeman.

The ballroom at Bingemans that can hold around 1,000 people.

Some venue owners said it’s a relief to see restrictions begin to ease, but it will still take time to bounce back.

“Unless you have something already planned, our recovery tends to be delayed by anywhere from six months to a year,” said Bingeman.

“Wedding venues are available Monday to Sunday now because they can’t keep up. And it is kind of the same thing with photographers now we are kind of being forced to take on extra work,” said photographer Karin Hughes

Hughes said she hired eight new workers to help with the 40 weddings booked in 2022.

“It is so abnormal to already be fully booked,” Hughes said.

Amaka Obodo is a fashion designer and owner of Queendavis Bridal Atelier in Kitchener. She said her phone is ringing off the hook, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I was worried about closing because I had colleagues in the industry that closed up their businesses,” Obodo said.

The designer said she is fully booked until May because brides who originally planned to get married at the start of the pandemic are coming back around now.

“They had only 25 people attending their wedding, so they didn’t want to have that. So they had to move it to 2022,” said Obodo.

Kanchan Ladhar and her sister got custom bridesmaid dresses made by Obodo for their brother’s wedding in the fall.

“I am like blown away. I feel like a princess,” said Ladhar. “I found pockets in my dress and I love it.”

Ladhar said her brother plans to have about 400 people attend his wedding. His family is grateful a guest list that long will be allowed, under the new restrictions.