Tam warns of ‘explosive’ second COVID-19 wave if reopening mishandled

OTTAWA — Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has issued a clear warning that Canada could see “explosive growth” in new cases if reopening is not done with caution, as the latest federal COVID-19 modelling projects that there will be more than 100,000 confirmed cases in Canada, and up to 9,400 deaths by June 15.

“These models all tell us that if we relax too much, or too soon, the epidemic will most likely rebound with explosive growth as a distinct possibility,” Tam said on Thursday, imploring all public health offices and levels of government to keep a close eye on what’s happening over the coming weeks to avoid being in another wave of infections in the fall.

According to new short-term federal modelling released by Health Canada, as of June 15 —more than three months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic— the country could see between 97,990 and 107,454 cases, and between 7,700 and 9,400 deaths.

As of 11:15 a.m. ET, based on CTV News’ figures, there were 93,700 confirmed cases, of which 34,620 were still considered active. Across Canada 7,635 people have died to date.

Broadly speaking, the rise in infections has slowed across all age groups and in most regions of the country, however as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cautioned in his address ahead of the new data’s release: “the pandemic is still threatening the health and safety of Canadians.”

Setting up the new figures, Trudeau said the situation remains “serious” in some regions where large numbers of new cases are still being reported, as well as in places like long-term care homes across Canada.

As well, over the past 14 days, Quebec and Ontario have accounted for more than 90 per cent of the national case count.

The updated national projections on the severity and scope of COVID-19 in Canada show that 82 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths are linked to seniors’ homes, and that outbreaks in other congregate living and work settings are also driving case counts, such as those in meat packing plants, shelters, and correctional facilities.

Health Canada data shows that more than 8,700 people have been hospitalized, and of those more than 1,700 have been admitted to an intensive care unit over the course of the disease’s spread across Canada. Approximately 94 per cent of deaths have occurred in people over the age of 60.

COULD SEE ‘EXPLOSIVE’ SECOND SPIKE

Tam said that even though progress is being made in fighting the novel coronavirus, until an effective vaccine or treatment is available, an ongoing effort is going to be required or Canada could see an “explosive” second spike.

Federal modelling showed that if population-based measures are loosened – allowing larger gathering sizes, permitting students to go back to school, and allowing businesses to reopen without accompanying public health measures, for example — it “will likely cause the epidemic to rebound.”

The figures showed that if the spread prevention measures are insufficient, Canada could have another peak come October.

“While we start loosening some restrictions, we also have to strengthen other measures… And as people head back to work, it’s even more important that we keep a 2-metre distance from others, wash our hands, and wear a mask when physical distancing is not always possible,” Trudeau said on Thursday.

The other key measures to continue will be case detection and isolation, contact-tracing and quarantining those who have come into contact with a confirmed case, and managing the risk of importing the disease from abroad.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters that in addition to provincial reopening plans, every local public health unit will have to balance their capacity to manage a local outbreak and their regions’ level of public health precautions. She also said every community needs to have a solid understanding of what could drive transmission in their area, such as a mining camp, as is the case in her riding and which led to clusters of infections in a nearby Indigenous community.

“It doesn’t take very long for an outbreak to really gain some steam,” Hajdu said. “Because for some of those smaller hospitals… a surge could be very difficult to manage.”  

THIRD UPDATE ON MODELLING

Thursday’s figures are the third federal modelling update, and they come more than a month after the last round of modelling released by Health Canada showed that the curve was flattening in Canada and that the rate of case spread had levelled off in most provinces.

The first round of projections showed the peak of cases in Canada might come in late spring, with the end of the first wave in the summer.

On April 9, it was estimated that between 4,000 and 300,000 people in Canada could die from COVID-19 during the pandemic depending on the level of containment efforts. Under the public health measures in place, however, officials said it was more likely that the number of deaths would be somewhere between 11,000 and 22,000. 

Then on April 28 the government offered more short-term projections that estimated that by May 5 Canada was on track to hit between 53,196 and 66,835 cases of COVID-19, and between 3,277 and 3,883 deaths. In reality, as of May 5 there were 62,046 confirmed cases and 4,043 people had died.


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