March 14, 2021 – Update on COVID-19 from Dr. Theresa Tam

Dr. Theresa Tam
Dr. Theresa Tam

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

OTTAWA, ON – During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have taken incredible steps to support one another with compassion through this challenging time. However, for many groups, the pandemic has exacerbated stigma and discrimination. This may happen, for example, when people link an illness, such as COVID-19, with a certain race, industry, or community which can lead to stereotyping and treating people unfairly. In other cases, when people who have contracted the virus or their caregivers are a part of a stigmatized identity, they may experience harassment or violence. Stigma and discrimination is not only unfair and disrespectful, it can be very harmful to our mental health, and can cause people to be apprehensive or afraid to get tested for COVID-19 or access the care, treatment and support they need. Addressing and preventing stigma is essential to making our communities safer and healthier. Remember that COVID-19 can happen to anyone, and the way we treat others can significantly impact stigma. We can all play a part in creating positive change: acknowledge and address stigma and discrimination; examine our biases; avoid dehumanizing language; build on Canadian values of respect, diversity, and inclusivity; and commit to learn more. Rumours and misinformation can also contribute to stigma and discrimination. We can also take an active role in preventing this by making sure to only read and share information from credible and trustworthy sources, such as public health authorities in our area or Speak out against stigmatizing language and behaviours!

As COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are tracking a range of epidemiological indicators to monitor where the disease is most active, where it is spreading and how it is impacting the health of Canadians and public health, laboratory and healthcare capacity. At the same time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is providing Canadians with regular updates on COVID-19 vaccines administered, vaccination coverage and ongoing monitoring of vaccine safetyacross the country. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to reduce infection rates, while vaccination programs expand for the protection of all Canadians.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 906,201 cases of COVID-19, including 22,434 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. They also tell us, together with results of serological studies, that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. As vaccination programs continue to expand across Canada, there is growing optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. We now have multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with unique advantages that are authorised for use in Canada. Recent expert analysis of the efficacy and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in Canada supports that priority vaccination programs are providing strong benefits for those at highest risk of severe outcomes or exposure. These encouraging findings have created opportunities for the safe and effective adjustment of vaccination programs to protect the entire adult population within a short timeframe, while contributing to health equity.

Currently, there are 31,224 active cases across the country. Although COVID-19 activity has been levelling off nationally for a few weeks, average daily case counts remain high and we are now observing a recent increase. The latest national-level data show a 7-day average of 3,052 new cases daily (Mar 5-11). While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are now highest among those aged 20-39 years of age. Circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially-connected adults can increase the risk of spread into high-risk populations and settings. The emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants heightens this concern. For the week of February 28 – March 6, there were on average of 104,332 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 2.9% were positive for COVID-19. As of March 11, a total of 2,986 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 2,728 B.1.1.7 variants, 215 B.1.351 variants and 43 P.1 variants. With the continued increase of cases and outbreaks associated with more contagious variants, we must all remain vigilant with public health measures and individual precautions to prevent a rapid shift in trajectory of the epidemic.

Nationally, severe outcomes continue to decline. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,056 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Mar 5-11), including 542 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 31 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.

While vaccine programs begin to accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly with enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect variants of concern. In particular, there must be sufficient contact tracing capacity and supports for effective isolation, given increased transmissibility of variants of concern.

Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptoms, think about the risks and reduce non-essential activities and outings to a minimum, avoid all non-essential travel, and maintain individual protective practices of physical distancing, hand, cough and surface hygiene and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask as appropriate (including in shared spaces, indoors or outdoors, with people from outside of your immediate household).

Aiming to have the fewest interactions with the fewest number of people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible, while wearing the best-fitting mask is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19, as vaccine programs expand to protect all Canadians.

Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing credible information on COVID-19 risks and prevention practices and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities and by downloading the COVID Alert app to break the cycle of infection and help limit the spread of COVID-19. Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others, including information on COVID-19 vaccination.

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada

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