May 16, 2021 – COVID-19 Update from Dr. Theresa Tam

Dr. Theresa Tam
Dr. Theresa Tam

OTTAWA – COVID-19 Update – While Canadians have made many efforts to protect and support one another during the many months of this pandemic, we know that COVID-19 has had a significant negative impact on the mental health of many of us, especially those who’ve been working on Canada’s front lines. Through the ongoing uncertainty and stress of this crisis, Canada’shealthcare workforce has shown remarkable resilience and dedication in the face of continued adversity, but the daily stress of your jobs, long hours, and difficult – sometimes impossible – decisions puts you at risk of suffering distress, burnout, and moral injury. As a caregiver, you may be inclined to put your own needs last as you juggle multiple roles at home and at work. It is my sincere wish that you take care of yourselves – especially your mental and emotional well-being – while you are doing the critical work you do every day in caring for others. As we continue to deal with the impact and challenges of this pandemic, it is important for everyone to be proactive in maintaining and supporting mental health and wellbeing and to be there for each other. It’s okay to not feel okay, and it’s okay to need support with mental health. The sooner we get the support we need the better!

If you or someone you love is struggling, there is hope and help: The Wellness Together Canada online portal offers people of all ages across the country immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Wellness Together Canada offers virtual services in both official languages, with interpretation services available during phone-counselling sessions in over 200 languages and dialects. Frontline health workers can access Wellness Together Canada supports and services by texting the word FRONTLINE to 741741. Additional Resources include:

Finally, although yesterday marked the end of National Nursing Week, this crisis is a continuing reminder of the importance of nurses, and the entire healthcare workforce, in our lives. On behalf of all Canadians, thank you for your skill, compassion and ongoing dedication. We continue to be thankful everyday for the vital care you provide across the expanse of health and public health, including in our hospitals, long-term care facilities, homes and communities.

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 1,323,681 cases of COVID-19, including 71,903 active cases and 24,908 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 a large majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. Multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, with unique advantages, are authorised for use in Canada. As vaccine delivery continues to ramp up, there is increasing optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. Benefits are being seen among groups targeted for priority vaccination and as vaccine coverage increases across Canada, we can expect further benefits to protect more Canadians over the coming weeks and months.

However, as COVID-19 activity remains elevated in many jurisdictions, strong public health measures must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating and individual precautions are important everywhere to drive infection rates down to low and manageable levels, while getting our vaccination rates as high as possible. While the latest national-level data show continued declines in disease activity, daily case counts remain very high. During the latest 7-day period (May 7-13), an average of 6,724 cases were being reported daily. For the week of May 2-8, there were on average of 125,830 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 6.0% were positive for COVID-19, similar to the week prior. Until vaccine coverage is sufficiently high to impact disease transmission more broadly in the community, we must maintain a high degree of caution with public health and individual measures and not ease restrictions too soon or too quickly where infection rates are high.

Elevated infection rates continue to impact lagging COVID-19 severity indicators, particularly in areas with sustained high levels of disease activity. Although we are beginning see some decline in these trends, persistently high numbers of severe and critical illnesses have placed a prolonged and heavy strain on the health system and healthcare workforce. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 3,860 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (May 7-13) representing a 8.0% decrease over last week. This includes, on average 1,368 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 6.0% lower than the previous week. Although the mortality trend has recently leveled off, with a 7-day average of 48 deaths reported daily (May 7-13), continued high rates of infection and high numbers of hospitalisations and critical care admissions could negatively impact this trend.

While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those under 60 years of age. Serious illness can occur at any age and evidence indicates that variants of concern can be associated with more severe illness and increased risk of death. Variants of concern (VOCs) now represent a majority of COVID-19 cases in Canada, with the B.1.1.7 variant now reported in all provinces and territories and accounting for over 95% of VOCs sequenced to date. As this variant spreads more quickly and has been associated with increased severity, and as vaccines may be less effective against other variants, such as the P.1 and B.1.351 variants, it is even more important to remain vigilant with all available measures to suppress spread.

B.1.617 was recently designated by the WHO as a VOC given its increased transmissibility. As of May 14, the B.1.617 variant, including all three currently defined sub-lineages (B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, and B.1.617.3) have been identified in 9 provinces and territories. We are working with provinces/territories to further characterize the impact of this VOC in the Canadian context. However, we know that regardless of which variants are circulating, vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures work to reduce spread.

As vaccine eligibility expands, Canadians are urged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them. However, regardless of our vaccination status, Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer, even as we’re beginning to see the positive impacts of COVID-19 vaccines: 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).

As our modelling shows, by maintaining control measures until at least 75% of eligible adults have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and at least 20% of these have had their second dose, we would drive infection rates low enough and raise vaccine protection high enough to allow for lifting of restrictions without overwhelming heath systems for a better summer and fall. But one dose of a two dose vaccine series is not enough to maximise protection. We need to aim for at least 75% of everyone who is eligible for vaccination getting fully vaccinated so it is very important to get the second dose.

For more information regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, I encourage Canadians to reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as and Working together, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Canada’s Chief Medical Officers of Health and other health professionals across the country are closely monitoring vaccine safety, effectiveness and optimal use to adapt approaches. As the science and situation evolves, we are committed to providing clear and evidence-informed guidance in order to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy.

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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