COVID-19: Health officials wary of post-demonstration spikes



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In the wake of weekend demonstrations that saw thousands gather on Parliament Hill to protest against racism, health officials are bracing for the potential fallout — and keeping their fingers crossed.

Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, included this warning on her weekend Twitter feed: “Until we can keep Rt consistently below 1.0, where each new case spreads to LESS THAN one other person for several weeks steady, COVID-19 will continue to smoulder,”

So far, so good.

The federal government’s most recent COVID-19 data modelling suggests the virus’s reproduction rate has in fact been tracking just below 1.0 during the two weeks ended June 4, thanks largely to the benefits of physical distancing. Even so, this amounts to a flattened curve, not one that’s declining. Not only that, a small number of infectious outbreaks would be enough to tip the ratio above 1.0, which would mean the virus is spreading.

In the meantime the number of new COVID-19 cases reminds us the virus is a continuing danger.

Federal officials on Sunday reported 722 new cases across the country, bringing the cumulative total since the pandemic began to 95,057. Another 70 people died, which means 7,773 Canadians have succumbed to the virus-induced illness.  As has been the situation for much of the past two months, the vast majority of increase has occurred in Quebec and Ontario.

Quebec health authorities on Sunday reported 225 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 for a total of 52,849.  This nevertheless is much improved from the first week of May, when Quebec recorded a jump of more than 1,000 cases in a single day. The province also confirmed eight virus-related deaths for a new tally of 4,978.  This daily total, too, is a sharp reduction from late April, when the province sustained 143 deaths in one day, including 91 in long-term care facilities.

Ontario, which last reported on Saturday, said its laboratories confirmed 415 new cases of COVID-19, which means 30,617 people have been infected to date. There were 19 additional deaths, bringing the cumulative total to 2,426.

While freshly confirmed cases are much less numerous than in late April, when they regularly topped 600 per day, they have remained stubbornly persistent.

Last week the average daily tally of new cases in Ontario was 381. The week before, it was 356, which was not much better than the 390 daily average of the week before that.  The number of COVID-19 related deaths in the province has come down somewhat. These averaged 23 a day last week and 27 during the two weeks prior.  Still, this is much improved over the May 4 peak of 84 deaths.

The National Capital Region has been faring reasonably well in the fight against COVID-19 during the past few weeks. Health officials on Sunday confirmed just two new cases in the Outaouais and one additional death for cumulative totals of 552 and 27 respectively. Outaouais’s cumulative infection rate now stands at 138 per 100,000 compared to 1,269 for Montreal, 182 for Ottawa and 220 for Ontario as a whole.

Ottawa Public Health on Sunday reported just six new cases for a cumulative total of 2,004 and one additional death to 252 in total. By contrast the agency in mid-April reported more than 70 cases per day for several days running, thanks largely to the spike of cases confirmed in long-term care homes and other medical institutions.

Since May 21 the average daily number of cases in Ottawa has slipped to fewer than five.  The death tally in the past two weeks has averaged just one per day, as the city’s health officials seem finally to have got institutional outbreaks of COVID-19 under control, with a few exceptions.  The cost, of course, was enormous as family members have been prevented from visiting their relatives in long-term facilities.

Indeed, this is a primary reason medical personnel were so concerned about the mass gatherings on the weekend. Tam and her colleagues do not want to see good progress on the health side jeopardized by new COVID-19 outbreaks.

At the same time, it was notable that political and medical leaders were not histrionic with their warnings. They know the danger of community spread is much reduced thanks to a better understanding among Canadians of how this virus invades the body. Tam over the weekend referred to a recent Statcan survey that suggested 95 per cent of Canadians had been practising physical distancing, and that  a similar percentage knew to wash hands frequently.

The vast majority of those who rallied in support of blacks and other visible minorities over the weekend also wore face masks. Whether these practices will continue is anyone’s guess. If we do see a spike in COVID-19 infections in coming weeks you can probably count on it.


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