Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on May 15, 2021
May 15, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
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.
People all across Canada have experienced disruptions to their lives and routines throughout the long course of this pandemic. From students and teachers to individuals and families, we've all been impacted by multiple challenges, from interrupted learning and school closures, to cancellation of extracurricular activities and missing recreational and social interactions that are so important for connectedness, learning, development and overall wellbeing. For students in particular, this has been a difficult and stressful school year for many, adapting to uncertainty and changes. If you are struggling or having a difficult time - know that there are options for resources and supports to help. Wellness Together Canada and the Kids Help Phone Line, are available to help Canadians of all ages, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, providing a wide range of supports from professional counselling to educational resources. As the school year draws to a close, I would like to congratulate all those who are graduating this year and to acknowledge your hard work under difficult circumstances. This is an important time of transition and although COVID-19 has changed the way we mark these special milestones, celebrations can still be meaningful and fun. Virtual gatherings, decorating your social media profile, or wearing your academic regalia and dancing around your home with your family are just a few ways to mark this special achievement!
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.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,318,399 cases of COVID-19, including 73,420 active cases and 24,869 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 a large majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. Multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, with unique advantages, are authorised for use in Canada. As vaccine delivery continues to ramp up, there is increasing optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. Benefits are being seen among groups targeted for priority vaccination and as vaccine coverage increases across Canada, we can expect further benefits to protect more Canadians over the coming weeks and months. As of yesterday, provinces and territories have administered over 17.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and are further expanding programs as supply ramps up at an accelerated pace.
However, as COVID-19 activity remains elevated in many jurisdictions, strong public health measures must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating and individual precautions are important everywhere to drive infection rates down to low and manageable levels, while getting our vaccination rates as high as possible. While the latest national-level data show continued declines in disease activity, daily case counts remain very high. During the latest 7-day period (May 7-13), an average of 6,724 cases were being reported daily. For the week of May 2-8, there were on average of 125,830 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 6.0% were positive for COVID-19, similar to the week prior. Until vaccine coverage is sufficiently high to impact disease transmission more broadly in the community, we must maintain a high degree of caution with public health and individual measures and not ease restrictions too soon or too quickly where infection rates are high.
Elevated infection rates continue to impact lagging COVID-19 severity indicators, particularly in areas with sustained high levels of disease activity. Although we are beginning see some decline in these trends, persistently high numbers of severe and critical illnesses have placed a prolonged and heavy strain on the health system and healthcare workforce. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 3,860 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (May 7-13) representing a 8.0% decrease over last week. This includes, on average 1,368 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 6.0% lower than the previous week. Although the mortality trend has recently leveled off, with a 7-day average of 48 deaths reported daily (May 7-13), continued high rates of infection and high numbers of hospitalisations and critical care admissions could negatively impact this trend.
While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those under 60 years of age. Serious illness can occur at any age and evidence indicates that variants of concern can be associated with more severe illness and increased risk of death. Variants of concern (VOCs) now represent a majority of COVID-19 cases in Canada, with the B.1.1.7 variant now reported in all provinces and territories and accounting for over 95% of VOCs sequenced to date. As this variant spreads more quickly and has been associated with increased severity, and as vaccines may be less effective against other variants, such as the P.1 and B.1.351 variants, it is even more important to remain vigilant with all available measures to suppress spread.
B.1.617 was recently designated by the WHO as a VOC given its increased transmissibility. As of May 14, the B.1.617 variant, including all three currently defined sub-lineages (B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, and B.1.617.3) have been identified in 9 provinces and territories. We are working with provinces/territories to further characterize the impact of this VOC in the Canadian context. However, we know that regardless of which variants are circulating, vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures work to reduce spread.
As vaccine eligibility expands, Canadians are urged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them. However, regardless of our vaccination status, Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer, even as we're beginning to see the positive impacts of COVID-19 vaccines: 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).
As our modelling shows, by maintaining control measures until at least 75% of eligible adults have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and at least 20% of these have had their second dose, we would drive infection rates low enough and raise vaccine protection high enough to allow for lifting of restrictions without overwhelming heath systems for a better summer and fall. But one dose of a two dose vaccine series is not enough to maximise protection. We need to aim for at least 75% of everyone who is eligible for vaccination getting fully vaccinated so it is very important to get the second dose.
For more information regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, I encourage Canadians to reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca. Working together, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Canada's Chief Medical Officers of Health and other health professionals across the country are closely monitoring vaccine safety, effectiveness and optimal use to adapt approaches. As the science and situation evolves, we are committed to providing clear and evidence-informed guidance in order to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy.
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.
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