Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on March 22, 2021
March 22, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has developed a variety of tools and diagnostic tests to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, including in sewage wastewater. Infected individuals, whether showing symptoms or not, can shed the virus through stool and testing wastewater can provide an early alert of the presence and relative amount of the virus in the community. This early warning sign of SARS-CoV-2 circulation in communities helps to indicate whether community infection levels are going up or down. In addition to using more conventional molecular tests, PHAC is using metagenomics – an advanced form of genetic sequencing to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus and variants of concern (VOCs) in wastewater. PHAC has developed new computational tools for rapid screening and visualisation of specific VOCs in complex sequence data from wastewater. The genetic sequences generated using this approach are being used to inform the potential source and study how the virus is adapting and evolving.
As COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are tracking a range of epidemiological indicators to monitor where the disease is most active, where it is spreading and how it is impacting the health of Canadians and public health, laboratory and healthcare capacity. At the same time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is providing Canadians with regular updates on COVID-19 vaccines administered, vaccination coverage and ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety across the country. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to reduce infection rates, while vaccination programs expand for the protection of all Canadians. Due to reduced reporting over the weekend, national seven-day averages have not been updated in today's statement. These data are still being collected and analysed. I will provide the latest numbers during my remarks tomorrow.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 933,785 cases of COVID-19, including 22,676 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. They also tell us, together with results of serological studies, that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. As vaccination programs continue to expand across Canada, there is cause for optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. We now have multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with unique advantages that are authorised for use in Canada.
However, nationally, COVID-19 activity has levelled off at a high level since mid-February and average daily case counts are now on the rise. The latest national-level data show a seven-day average of 3,297 new cases daily (March 12 to 18). Currently, there are 35,009 active cases across the country. While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those aged 20 to 39 years of age. Although severe illness is less common among young adults, it is important to remember that serious illness can occur at any age. In addition, circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially-connected adults presents an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations and settings. The emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants heightens this concern. For the week of March 7 to 13, there were on average of 102,676 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 3.2 % were positive for COVID-19. As of March 21, a total of 5,154 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 4,807 B.1.1.7 variants, 243 B.1.351 variants and 104 P.1 variants. With the continued increase of variants of concern, maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial to reducing infection rates and avoiding a rapid reacceleration of the epidemic and its severe outcomes, including hospitalisation and deaths.
Nationally, declines in lagging indicators of COVID-19 severity are levelling off or increasing slightly. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,057 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day period (March 12 to 18), including 561 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 31 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.
While vaccine programs accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly with enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect variants of concern. In particular, there must be sufficient contact tracing capacity and supports for effective isolation, given increased transmissibility of variants of concern.
Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptoms, think about the risks and reduce non-essential activities and outings to a minimum, avoid all non-essential travel, and maintain individual protective practices of physical distancing, hand, cough and surface hygiene and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask as appropriate (including in shared spaces, indoors or outdoors, with people from outside of your immediate household).
Aiming to have the fewest interactions with the fewest number of people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible, while wearing the best-fitting mask is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19, as vaccine programs expand to protect all Canadians.
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 and by downloading the COVID Alert app to break the cycle of infection and help limit the spread of COVID-19. 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.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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