As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughout several parts of Canada, the country hit more then 10,000 confirmed cases on Thursday.
Ontario announced 401 more cases on April 2, putting the total for country at over 10,000 cases. That’s a stark increase compared to where the country was on March 1, with only 24 confirmed cases at that time.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer acknowledged the country reaching over 10,000 cases in a press conference on April 2.
“These represent infections from previous exposures and not what is happening right now necessarily,” she said.
“So even if you’re not hearing of cases in your community, it doesn’t mean there is no risk of exposure. We must all consider that anyone could be infected and keeping our two-metre distance is the safest bet,” she explained.
The provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec have the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Canada’s total death toll also surpassed 120 this week.
There also continues to be ongoing concern for Indigenous communities along with retirement homes and correctional facilities, where vulnerable people are in close quarters with others.
So far, there have been outbreaks and deaths in some of these spaces, said Tam at a press conference on March 31.
Multiple provinces including B.C., Alberta and Ontario have seen a string of COVID-19-related deaths stemming from outbreaks at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, raising concerns about how protected residents and care workers in those facilities are.
The chart below only includes confirmed cases, not presumptive cases. To see all the presumptive cases in the country, see Health Canada’s chart here.
Understanding the current cases and increase
The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that community transmission applies to 64 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 cases, meaning those people were infected without travelling or being close to someone who has a confirmed case.
The extent of community spread cases can be difficult to track based on testing rates and if some people are asymptomatic, they know they are carrying the illness.
Thirty-six per cent of the cases are due to travel or a person being exposed to a traveller returning to Canada. So far, this data applies to 4,183 confirmed Canadian cases, according to the Public Health Agency.
As Canada’s total case count surpasses 10,000, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says what the new numbers don’t show is the point in time when people became sick, she said at a recent press conference.
“What you’re seeing today is what happened to someone when they were symptomatic at least two weeks ago,” she said.
Finding context in cases and the source of outbreaks can be difficult for public health agencies to discern and it will take some time to analyze whether social distancing and closures have made an impact in the last few weeks, she explained.
This week, however, is “crucial” to see whether these protocols have had any effect.
“There are still outbreaks connected to a number of high-risk settings in Canada, particularly in long-term care facilities. So there’s still an urgent need to double-down on precautions,” she said.
“While many cases occur in younger adults, it really is people over the age of 60 who account for 60 per cent of the hospitalizations and 90 per cent of deaths. The high-risk population needs to take every precaution.”
More Canadians continue to be tested
Testing efforts have also ramped up across the provinces, with more than 222,000 Canadians having been tested as of March 30. However, Ontario has faced criticism for their backlog of tests that had grown to just under 11,000 as of a week ago.
A Global News data analysis found that Ontario had the lowest testing rates at 351 per 100,000. In comparison, B.C. has a rate of 846 people tested per 100,000 as of April 1.
Ontario is still working through a backlog of cases, which is why the province is reporting increases in the hundreds recently, explained Christine Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott at a press conference on April 1.
On March 31, the province tested 6,245 people in one day, which is double the number of people tested from the day before.
“The cases that are currently being diagnosed are really historic cases, looking back at what has happened over the last week to 10 days,” said Elliott.
“What’s going to be most important is what we are going to see when the backlog is cleared over the next day or so. We will then be dealing with current information and that is what’s going to tell us where we are in terms of flattening the curve.”
Do we know what will happen next?
On March 27, B.C.’s health officials released their own data predictions about what’s in store for the province. The modelling showed that the province’s transmission rate had dropped from 24 per cent to 12 per cent.
Researchers compared B.C.’s COVID-19 growth rate to other regions like South Korea, northern Italy and Hubei province in China to see how B.C.’s hospitals would be able to handle the spread of the virus. The results showed B.C. is similar to having a scenario like South Korea and if that analysis is accurate, the province would have enough hospital beds and ventilators.
However, Tam has warned that Canada is a “big country” and outcomes may vary starkly between provinces and territories.
While the B.C. data is “promising,” we should be “very cautious in making any definitive claims and even more so when it comes to generalizing these findings to other provinces,” said Dr. Suzanne Sicchia, an associate professor at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, in a previous Global News report.
This week and next week are crucial for health officials as they will give them a better sense of whether measures taken to flatten the curve are actually effective, she said.
“To these ends, the experts will be watching to see if there is a decrease in the rate of new, confirmed cases,” Sicchia said..
This week we may also see many beginning to have symptoms based on what’s known about the virus’ incubation period, according to Dr. Jeff Kwong, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto in a previous Global News report.
“It’s going to be this week or the next week that we’re going to see a wave of people who are really sick,“ Kwong said.
“We know there’s lots cases out there — most are mild — but how many of all these cases are going to be severe?” he said. “That’s what we’re going to start to see this week.”
According to Public Health, COVID-19 is a “serious health threat” and numbers continue to change on a daily basis.
“The risk will vary between and within communities, but given the increasing number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is considered high,” the organization noted.
However, Public Health wants to ensure the public understand not all Canadians will get the disease. The focus should continue to be flattening the curve by physical distancing, self-isolation if you have any symptoms or recently travelling and staying home as much as you can.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun, Patrick Cain, Hannah Jackson and Amanda Connolly.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.