Health officials urge vigilance this Thanksgiving as COVID-19 modelling shows acceleration of cases

Public health officials are urging Canadians to be extra-vigilant this Thanksgiving weekend as new COVID-19 modelling shows the growth of caseloads continuing to accelerate across the country.

During a news conference in Ottawa today, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said there were 2,400 new cases recorded across the country on Thursday – the highest one-day increase in reported cases since the start of the pandemic. She said it’s vital that Canadians limit their contacts and deny the virus opportunities to spread.

“The actions of individual Canadians are needed now to reverse this trend,” she said.

Tam released projections showing that the national caseload could climb to 197,830 by Oct. 17, with up to 9,800 deaths.

The virus is spreading most rapidly in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, and each new case in Canada is spreading infection to more than one person.

Infections remain highest among younger age groups — especially among those aged 20 to 39 years old. But infections are rising among Canadians over the age of 80, a group which is particularly vulnerable.

Tam said the number of hospitalizations is much lower than it was during the first wave partly due to the average age of those infected. She warned, however, that hospitalizations are a “late indicator” of the severity of the pandemic because they lag one or more weeks behind changes in the caseload.

Hospitalizations rising

“We are now observing an increase in hospitalizations in some regions and the overall number of COVID-19 cases in hospital per day has more than doubled, from 380 cases at the time of our last update to 820 cases in hospital yesterday,” she said. 

To slow the spread and prevent new outbreaks, officials are asking Canadians to limit gatherings to their own household contacts, to stay close to home and to celebrate Thanksgiving creatively through virtual gatherings and festive outdoor activities.

“We are at an important juncture in the pandemic, where we would very much like to see the voluntary actions of Canadians across the country be sufficient to bend the curve downward,” Tam said.

“This will require sustained and intentional effort to limit contacts and reduce opportunities for transmission. This will not be easy and will require hard choices between what we need to do and what we would like to do.”

Tam and her deputy Howard Njoo are holding a news conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several other cabinet ministers and CBCNews.ca is carrying it live.

WATCH / Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam provides new COVID-19 modelling

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a handful of ministers and public health officials make an announcement as COVID-19 cases spike in parts of the country.    0:00

Last month, Tam presented modelling that showed the epidemic was accelerating nationally. At the time, she warned that if Canadians did not step up preventative measures, the virus could spread out of control and trigger a wave of infections bigger than the first one.

Her projections suggested cases could climb to more than 5,000 daily by October.

That projection remains in today’s modelling. If Canadians increase their current rate of contacts by 20 per cent, the epidemic is forecast to re-surge “faster and stronger,” according to the projections.

Public health officials say that if Canadians maintain their current rate of contacts, the epidemic is still expected to re-surge — but if they reduce their contacts by 25 to 35 per cent, the epidemic is expected to come under control in most locations.

The worse-case scenario hasn’t happened yet but Ontario reported 939 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the province’s highest-ever daily number of new cases. There has also been a spike in new COVID-19 ICU hospital admissions in the province.

Ontario is implementing stricter measures in the hot spots of Toronto, Ottawa and Peel to reverse the trend. The province is shutting down gyms, cinemas, casinos and indoor dining for 28 days.

Schools will remain open.

Quebec also plans to impose stricter measures after the province reported 1,102 new cases of COVID-19 and 22 more deaths on Friday.

The number of so-called “red zones” in Quebec with a high number of cases is growing, forcing the closure of restaurants, bars, theatres and some other businesses.

In British Columbia, the number of cases has now surpassed 10,000, but the province’s chief public health officer Bonnie Henry said the curve is beginning to flatten again as testing ramps up significantly.

Trudeau reminded Canadians to help limit transmission by wearing masks, staying home when going out is unnecessary and downloading the COVID-19 alert app.

“We’re at a tipping point in this pandemic. Not only is the second wave underway, yesterday we hit the highest daily recorded cases — well above what we saw this spring,” he said.

“I know this is discouraging, especially going into Thanksgiving weekend. But remember this — when things were at their bleakest during the first wave, Canadians pulled together and flattened the curve.”

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