Dr. Theresa Tam – Update on COVID-19

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Dr. Theresa Tam
Dr. Theresa Tam

OTTAWA – COVID-19 Update – 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.

As COVID-19 disease activity continues to accelerate in Canada, many of you may be feeling additional stress or frustration from being away from loved ones, suffering financial hardships, and dealing with the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic. While the start of a new year is something to celebrate, it can also remind us of experiences we have missed out on over the course of another year of the pandemic. It’s okay to not feel okay and it’s okay to need support to take care of your mental health. You are certainly not alone; a large number of Canadians have reported increased feelings of loneliness and declines in their mental health over the pandemic.

Be kind and compassionate with yourself. Try reaching out to a supportive family member or friend to talk about any difficult emotions you may be feeling, or consider getting outside for a bit of fresh air and exercise. These are just a few ways to promote positive mental health and well-being. Everyone’s situation is different, so choose the strategies that work best for you. A key component of positive mental health is social connection, and this is especially important over the holidays. Even now, catching up over the phone or video call can help us stay connected. While virtual means of connection are no substitute for in-person time with loved ones, they can go a long way in reducing loneliness and building and strengthening relationships over the holidays.

In addition, through the Wellness Together Canada portal, you can access a wide range of immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports. It is available 24/7 and offers resources, including a mental well-being self-assessment tool and tracker, self-guided programs, peer-to-peer support and confidential sessions with social workers, psychologists and other professionals.

Mental health is a resource for everyday life, for everyone. For this reason, each of us can benefit from checking in on and prioritizing our own mental health and well-being, even in times of uncertainty. While this pandemic experience has been challenging, it is also important to remember that our many sacrifices have been critical to protecting our communities and saving lives. Together, we will get through this.

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 with the latest national numbers and trends.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 2,102,470 cases of COVID-19 and 30,253 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 207,418, and 7-day moving averages indicate current disease activity and severity trends.

The number of cases associated with the Omicron variant of concern has further accelerated around the world and in Canada. Accumulating data continue to demonstrate that Omicron is the most highly transmissible variant to date and that prior immunity, either from vaccination with a two-dose primary series or previous infection, does not offer good protection against infection. There may be some protection against severe disease after two doses, but this remains uncertain. Importantly, getting a booster dose when eligible, with either the Pfizer Comirnaty or Moderna Spikevax mRNA vaccines, is expected to help restore protection that may have waned since the second dose.

During the latest 7 day period (Dec 23-29), an average of 25,332 new cases were reported daily across Canada, which is an increase of 141% compared to the previous week. As of December 29, 2021, there have been over 34,000 cases of the Omicron variant reported in 12 provinces and territories; however, these cases likely represent just the tip of the iceberg. Community transmission of Omicron is ongoing in many parts of Canada and outbreaks are being reported in a multiple settings. Omicron is quickly displacing Delta and is now the dominant variant in several jurisdictions. Although the situation is not the same everywhere, the Omicron variant spreads extremely quickly and the local situation can rapidly get out of hand, so increased vigilance is needed across Canada now and in the coming weeks. Accordingly, I am urging all Canadians to continue to reduce their contacts as much as possible.

While there is still uncertainty regarding the severity profile of Omicron variant cases, the continued rapid increase in Omicron cases is expected to add an additional strain on the healthcare system, impacting many areas of the country over the coming weeks. Currently, hospitalisation and critical care admission trends are increasing in several jurisdictions. The latest provincial and territorial data show that an average of 1,892 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Dec 23-29), which is 23% higher than last week. This includes, on average, 476 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 3.7% more than last week and an average of 22 deaths were reported daily (Dec 23-29). 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 the longer-term strain on the health system, particularly in heavily impacted areas.

As of December 29, 2021, provinces and territories have administered over 67 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The latest provincial and territorial data indicate that over 82% of the total population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and over 76% are now fully vaccinated. As well, over 6.5 million third doses have been administered. In consideration of emerging evidence on waning protection of vaccines over time, the National Advisory Committee for Immunization recently updated their guidance regarding booster doses of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine for adults 18 years of age and over, who completed their primary series at least six months earlier. Immunization for those who are eligible – but have not yet received their primary series – remains a top priority.

While COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, a vaccines plus approach continues to be essential to the pandemic response in Canada. This includes layering vaccination with timed and targeted public health measures and individual protective practices such as staying home/self-isolating if you have symptomsgetting tested if symptomatic and/or as recommended; being aware of risks associated with different settings; following local public health advice and consistently maintaining individual precautions. In particular, properly wearing a well-fitted and well-constructed face mask when in public or private spaces with others outside of your immediate householdavoiding crowding, and getting the best ventilation possible in indoor spaces, are layers of protection that can reduce your risk in all settings. As well, given the significant risks and uncertainties associated with rapidly expanding spread of the Omicron variant, Canadians are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada at this time; if you must travel, be aware of current and rapidly evolving requirements for visiting other countries and for returning to Canada.

In addition to getting fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines and getting a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose as recommended, we can also stay healthier during the winter respiratory season by getting up-to-date with other recommended vaccines, such as influenza and routine vaccines for children and adults. 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.

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