Canada’s head of public health says that despite the challenges posed by the current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are good reasons for optimism in the latest federal modeling data.
During a technical briefing on the data today, Dr. Theresa Tam that the reproductive number of the virus (Rt) has dropped below one for the first time since mid-July.
This means that new infections are on a downward trajectory in Canada for the first time in months.
“However, Rt has only just fallen below one nationally, and may still be at or above one in some areas,” Tam said. “To bring the epidemic under control, Rt must be consistently maintained under one.”
“The efforts we have made give us cause for optimism,” Tam said. “But we need to be aware of the need for continued caution in the coming months.”
Over the past week, Canada experienced an average of 3,745 new cases of COVID-19 per day. That’s less than half of the more than 8,000 new infections a day predicted by previous models unveiled in September, Tam said.
Tam said the downward trend is evidence that widespread vaccination and public health measures are keeping the pandemic under control, even with the spread of the more infectious delta variant. Over 80 percent of those eligible have now received at least one dose of a vaccine in each province and area.
While infection rates are going in the right direction, serious illness due to COVID-19 remains a problem. There are 2,514 people in the hospital, of which 769 are in intensive care units.
There are 41,549 active cases in Canada.
Holes in infections, vaccinations
Tam also pointed out the high degree of regional variation in COVID-19 infections and serious diseases. The data show that the Prairie provinces have both higher infection rates and lower vaccination rates.
In Saskatchewan and Alberta, 75 percent of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated – a rate that is significantly lower than in other provinces.
“Over the last month, hard lessons have been learned where measures have been relaxed too much or too soon, and especially where vaccination coverage remains low,” she said.
According to the data, the number of new cases is 10 times higher and the degree of serious illness is 36 times higher among the unvaccinated.
Vaccination rates are also significantly lower among young people, leaving a “significant protection gap,” Tam said.
Among the 18-29 age group, only 72 percent have received two doses of a vaccine.
Tam urged Canadians to continue to follow local public health directives and measures – including masking indoors and avoiding crowds – over the Thanksgiving weekend.
She added that she currently has no plans to attend a personal gathering.
“In the past, we’ve seen increases in cases after these holiday events,” Tam said. “So this year, with the vaccine on board, I think we should be on a better and more solid footing.”
Njoo recommended keeping events limited to immediate family members. But if you are in the presence of an unvaccinated relative, he said, you could talk to them about the issue.
“If let’s say a family member has not been vaccinated, politely explain your situation and your discomfort,” Njoo said.
“If they choose not to be vaccinated, it’s their choice, but there are consequences in terms of even family dynamics and others who feel safe getting along.”