What's driving Canada's increase in COVID-19 infections? See the hotspots
TORONTO -- After steadily declining in June and flattening out in early July, Canada's COVID-19 curve has been on the upswing over the past two weeks.
"There's this gradual but progressive creep of increasing new cases," Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist based at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, said Thursday on CTV News Channel.
That increase is not a surprise. It was expected that as more parts of the country reopened, it would be easier for the novel coronavirus to spread.
- Complete coverage at CTVNews.ca/Coronavirus
- Coronavirus newsletter sign-up: Get The COVID-19 Brief sent to your inbox
A significant number of these new cases can be linked to known outbreaks in several provinces. While some of them have been blamed on "lockdown fatigue" and younger Canadians loosening up their social circles, others show continuing issues in migrant worker camps and other close-quarters settings.
But what's the story behind the data? What activities are driving Canada's current COVID-19 hotspots?
From Canada Day parties to reopened bars, CTVNews.ca looks at the stories behind five of the most notable recent outbreaks in the country.
CANADA DAY PARTIES IN KELOWNA, B.C.
The surge in COVID-19 cases in the largest city in the B.C. interior is believed to have started around Canada Day.
Health officials have said that eight known COVID-19 patients were in the city at that time – only two of whom live there – and singled out two private Canada Day parties as the most likely sources of the ongoing outbreak.
The mayor of Kelowna has warned out-of-towners against visiting the city this summer, and B.C.'s provincial health officer said Wednesday that the province may impose regional restrictions on the area, breaking from the province-wide approach used up to this point.
CALGARY'S MYSTERIOUS UPSWING
Alberta has led the charge for increasing COVID-19 numbers in Canada, now holding the dubious distinction of being the province with the highest infection rate per capita.
"They had controlled the pandemic really well until about a month ago," Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, a Toronto-based infectious disease expert, told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.
Many of the new cases are coming from Calgary, where almost every corner of the city is seeing its curve bend upward.
What concerns the experts, though, is that it's not clear what's driving the increasing caseload. In other Canadian hotspots, there is a place or activity or gathering generally considered to be the source of the outbreak. That's not the case here.
There were 517 active cases of COVID-19 in Calgary as of Wednesday – approximately 10 per cent of the Canadian total.
Approximately three-quarters of the world's Hutterites – an offshoot group of Anabaptist Christians – live in Western Canada, where there are more than 350 Hutterite communities known as colonies.
They speak their own language and mostly live technology-free lives – and as of last week, they're at the centre of COVID-19 activity in the Prairies.
Two Hutterite colonies in Manitoba went into voluntary lockdown after reporting a combined five cases of the virus on July 17, accounting for every new case in the province that day. A few days later, the tally was up to 20 cases among three colonies. Church services and communal meals have been put on hold as the colonies attempt to repel the virus.
The effects of the pandemic have been much more severe among Hutterite groups in Saskatchewan. Seventeen colonies in that province were known to have had active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and 48 of the 60 new cases announced in Saskatchewan on that day were traced to Hutterite communities.
MIGRANT FARM WORKERS AROUND WINDSOR, ONT.
Ontario has adopted a staged approach to reopening, with parts of the province where new case numbers are low allowed to have fewer restrictions than those where the numbers are high.
The last areas to reopen have largely been in and around Toronto – but nearly 400 kilometres away, Windsor, Ont., has also lagged behind. Windsor and neighbouring Essex County were responsible for more than one-quarter of all new COVID-19 cases announced in Ontario on Thursday.
There were 10 active outbreaks in the region as of Thursday, including eight at agricultural facilities, which heavily rely on migrant workers, despite pleas from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford for more to be done to protect the workers.
In late June, one farm alone was linked to 175 known cases of COVID-19.
MONTREAL'S BELOVED BARS
Quebec has had far more cases of COVID-19 than any other province, with Montreal especially hard-hit.
Despite that, the province has been moving ahead faster than some others when it comes to reopening. Bars were allowed to start serving customers again in late June, with distancing and other safety measures in place, and it wasn't long until reports of coronavirus infections linked to bars began to pour in.
"There's been much concern raised … that facilities like bars, where there's alcohol involved, seem to pose a higher risk than most other businesses," Oughton said.
There were also concerns that bar employees were not wearing the required personal protective equipment, with Premier Francois Legault saying inspectors found that to be the case at 35 of the 36 bars they checked out in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region.
"Project Pandemic: Canada Reports on COVID-19" is a national collaboration bringing together journalists and journalism students from news organizations and universities across Canada to gather information as a public service.
The consortium draws on data gathered by governmental health authorities, journalists and the nonprofit platform Flatten.ca. This project is co-ordinated by Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, with the support of the Canadian Association of Journalists. For the full list of credits, please visit concordia.ca/projectpandemic.