'Hotspots' linger, more young people getting COVID-19: new modelling
OTTAWA -- New national modelling on the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada shows that “hotspots” remain in Ontario and Quebec, and the percentage of younger people contracting the virus has increased in proportion to a decrease in older patients in the last month.
Federal health officials are projecting that as of July 12 the country could see between 103,940 and 108,130 cases, and between 8,545 and 8,865 deaths.
To-date there are 103,818 confirmed Canadian COVID-19 cases, of which 64 per cent have recovered, while there have been 8,566 deaths.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo provided a revised picture of the current epidemic in this country on Monday.
The latest federal figures indicate that the two main hotpots remain around Toronto and Montreal, as well as in pockets of Saskatchewan and southern Ontario, but that overall Canada’s experience with the novel coronavirus has been a case of regional epidemics, with some provinces and territories going weeks now without new cases.
The health officials said that the daily numbers of hospitalized and critical care cases are also steadily declining as recoveries increase. The modelling also shows that while there has been a steep decline in transmission among older age groups, there has been a relative increase in Canadians aged 20-39 contracting COVID-19 since late May.
“As the epidemic has slowed the incident rate has steadily declined in all age groups. But the decline has been relatively slow in younger age groups... Individuals under the age of 40 now account for a greater proportion of total cases in recent weeks,” Tam said.
Dr. Tam said that in order for COVID-19 to “die out” in Canada, effective reproduction number (Rt) — the average number of people infected by each case—needs to remain below one, and Canada’s Rt rate has been less than one for eight weeks.
Tam also cautioned that outbreaks have recently been linked to social gatherings, particularly in closed settings with close contacts like funerals or other family gatherings. She is advising people to limit the number of close contacts people have and avoid enclosed and crowded spaces.
“You should ask yourself if you do test positive, consider that the fewer people that you have contact with, the quicker and easier it will be for public health to trace them all down and interrupt chains of transmission to keep the spread of COVID-19 under control,” she said.
Going forward she said the capacity for contact tracing and isolating new cases will need to continue to increase. Over time the testing rates and case detection have sped up, though Canada is still only testing on average of 38,000 people daily, when Tam has previously said the target is closer to 60,000.
PM CALLS FOR VIGILANCE
Ahead of the update, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that when it comes to the spread of COVID-19, Canada is heading in the right direction, though the threat remains.
“The virus remains a very serious threat to our health,” Trudeau said Monday, updating Canadians on the latest pandemic relief efforts the federal government is working on, which includes looking to extend a commercial rent relief program for another month.
“After a very challenging spring, things are continuing to move in the right direction. We still have some hotspots in some parts of the country, but nationally, the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is declining over time. And that's because Canadians are doing their part,” Trudeau said. “Though, while we're on the right track, the fight against COVID-19 is not over yet. As we start to reopen parts of the economy we must continue to follow local public health guidelines to keep each other safe.”
Trudeau drove home throughout his address the need to remain on top of measures like mask wearing and physical distancing, or risk losing the progress made as is being seen in other countries, particularly the United States where cases are surging to near-early pandemic levels after states eased off on health restrictions.
“It going to be really, really important that everyone remains attentive and vigilant to their own behaviors, so that we can prevent a second wave from arriving… as we’re beginning to see in places around the world, but also, so we can minimize any wave, if it does hit,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau also said that as it’s now summer, he and federal health officials will be transitioning out of the nearly daily national addresses, to coming out to speak to Canadians “a few times a week… when we have briefings, or information to share” and still publishing the latest figures on cases and deaths every day.
SCALED-DOWN DEATH PROJECTIONS
Monday’s figures are the fourth federal modelling update offered by Heath Canada officials, and the death estimates are now far below what the initial projections estimated.
Tam warned earlier this month, that Canada could see “explosive growth” in new cases if reopening is not done with caution. The figures showed that, if the spread prevention measures are insufficient, Canada could have another peak come October.
The previous national projections on the severity and scope of COVID-19 prior to Monday’s update showed that 82 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths are linked to seniors’ homes, and that outbreaks in other congregate living and work settings are also driving case counts, such as those in meat packing plants, shelters, and correctional facilities. As well, approximately 94 per cent of the deaths have occurred in people over the age of 60.
During the April 28 modelling update Canada first saw indicators that the COVID-19 curve was flattening in Canada and that the rate of case spread had levelled off in most provinces. The modelling at that time also showed that, compared to other countries, Canada’s epidemic growth has been slower.
The first round of projections showed the peak of cases in Canada might come in late spring, with the end of the first wave in the summer. On April 9, it was estimated that between 4,000 and 300,000 people in Canada could die from COVID-19 during the pandemic depending on the level of containment efforts. Though health officials estimated that, under the current public health measures, the realistic figure would be somewhere between 11,000 and 44,000 COVID-19 deaths in the months ahead.
VACCINE COULD BE A WHILE
At the time of the first federal modelling, Trudeau said to expect small outbreaks to continue once the initial wave was over, saying certain public health precautions would be the new normal until a vaccine is developed.
While that high rate of projected deaths has now come down considerably, Tam reiterated Trudeau’s sentiment: “I want everyone to remember that the virus has not disappeared and resurgence can happen anytime or at any place. Until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment we need to continue to live with COVID-19.”
As for how long it could be before a vaccine is found, Tam said that while U.S. director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci has said it’s a matter of “when and not if,” and that a vaccine could be ready by the end of the year, Canada is preparing for a long wait.
“I think that being cautiously optimistic is not unreasonable, but given all the uncertainties right now, we need to prepare for a scenario where we won't have vaccine for a while,” she said.