Chief Medical Officer of Health – COVID-19 Update

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Dr. Theresa Tam
Dr. Theresa Tam

OTTAWA – COVID-19 Update – Since the outset of the pandemic, we have learned a lot about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Most importantly, we have learned how the virus can linger in fine aerosols and remain suspended in the air we breathe, much as expelled smoke lingers in poorly ventilated spaces. Similar to second hand smoke, those in close proximity to the infected person inhale more aerosols. This is why opening a window helps reduce the risk and why wearing a well-fitting and well-constructed mask is so important when you are spending time in indoor public spaces, particularly if ventilation is not optimal.

The same as vaccination provides us with an essential base layer of immune readiness and protection, masks are an essential top layer against virus inhalation and spread between people. Heading into the winter, there are many reasons to ensure that our top layer, or outer barrier layer of protection, is of the best quality and fit possible. With the highly contagious Delta variant continuing to predominate, the risk for surges in disease activity is likely to increase with more time spent indoors, particularly where there are pockets of low vaccine coverage. As well, given evidence of waning vaccine protection in some situations, there may be an increased risks of severe illness as well, which reinforces the need to layer protections. In particular, of the many types of face masks, those that fit to provide a good snug seal on your face and are constructed with layers of materials that can filter fine virus particles are best for preventing or reducing the amount of infectious respiratory particles you may inhale. Updated information and tools are available to help you in choosing a well-constructed and well-fitted face masks for optimal protection.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) continues to monitor COVID-19 epidemiological indicators to quickly detect, understand and communicate emerging issues of concern. The following is a brief summary of the latest national numbers and trends.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,740,005 cases of COVID-19 and 29,249 deaths reported in Canada. These cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date, while the number of active cases, now at 24,011, and 7-day moving averages indicate current disease activity and severity trends.

Nationally, there has been a small increase in daily case counts after several weeks of decline, with an average of 2,488 new cases reported daily during the latest 7 day period (Nov 4-10), which is an increase of 11% compared to the previous week. Nationally, hospitalisation and critical care admission trends, primarily involving unvaccinated people, are decreasing slightly but remain elevated overall. The latest provincial and territorial data show that an average of 1,823 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Nov 4-10), which is 6% lower than last week. This includes, on average, 528 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 13% less than last week and an average of 22 deaths were reported daily (Nov 4-10). Together with prolonged hospital stays these still elevated numbers continue to place a heavy strain on local healthcare resources, particularly where infection rates are high and vaccination rates are low. Keeping infection rates down remains key to avoiding renewed increases in severe illness trends over the coming weeks and months as well as to ease longer term strain on the health system in heavily impacted areas.

We know that vaccination, in combination with public health measures and individual practices, work to reduce disease spread and severe outcomes. In particular, evidence continues to demonstrate that a complete two-dose series of Health-Canada approved COVID-19 vaccines provides substantial protection against severe illness, particularly among younger age groups. Based on the latest data from 10 provinces and territories for the eligible population, 12 years or older, in recent weeks (September 26 – October 23, 2021) and adjusting for age, average weekly rates indicate that unvaccinated people were significantly more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to fully vaccinated people.

    • Among youth and adults aged 12 to 59 years, unvaccinated people were 45 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people
    • Among older adults aged 60 years or older, unvaccinated people were 18 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people

As of November 11, 2021, provinces and territories have administered over 59 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with the latest provincial and territorial data indicating that over 89% of people aged 12 years or older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and over 85% are now fully vaccinated.

As more of our activities move indoors, this fall and winter, we must strive to have as many eligible people as possible fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as quickly as possible to protect ourselves and others, including those who may not mount a strong immune response or who cannot get vaccinated. Nevertheless, using timed and targeted public health measures and maintaining individual protective practices continue to be important for slowing COVID-19 infection rates and reducing the impact on healthcare capacity. While our protection against COVID-19 has been bolstered by vaccines, we also need to think about the return of other respiratory infections. We can stay healthier by getting up-to-date with recommended vaccines, such as influenza and other routine vaccines for children and adults and maintaining basic precautions that help slow the spread of COVID-19 as well as other respiratory infections.

While COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, public health practices remain crucial: stay home/self-isolate if you have symptoms; be aware of risks associated with different settings; follow local public health advice and maintain individual protective practices. In particular, physical distancing and properly wearing a well-fitted and well-constructed face mask when in public or private spaces with others outside of your household, provide additional layers of protection that further reduce your risk in all settings, as well as avoiding crowding and getting the best ventilation possible in indoor spaces.

For additional information regarding vaccination in your area, reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca. Canada.ca provides a broad range of COVID-19 information and resources to help Canadians understand the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19.

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. 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