Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on January 7, 2022
January 7, 2022 | 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.
Since the last epidemiology update prior to the holidays, COVID-19 cases have continued to accelerate rapidly, with Omicron now predominating and widespread across much of the country. Nationally, the average daily case count has increased by 65% compared to the previous week, with an average of close to 42,000 cases being reported daily over the latest 7 days up to January 5th.
Although very high infection rates have challenged testing capacity in many areas of the country, which will underestimate true case numbers, we continue to test and sequence at very high levels to track the spread of the virus as well as monitor variant predominance. At the same time, we are using multiple other indicators, such as laboratory test positivity and hospitalisation trends, that continue to be useful for monitoring overall disease activity and severity, respectively. Currently, these trends are all increasing as a result of the sheer number of cases occurring with this rapidly spreading variant. For the most recent 7-day period, laboratory test positivity is estimated at 29%, indicating significant community transmission.
Although evidence from ongoing surveillance and recent studies indicates that this risk of hospitalisation is lower for Omicron compared to Delta, the sudden acceleration of Omicron and enormous volume of cases is driving severe illness trends. Given current daily case counts are already about 400% higher than the peak of the third wave, it is not unexpected to see daily hospitalisations rising. However, international surveillance suggests that while these trends can be expected to increase with the Omicron surge, severe illnesses are not rising at the same explosive rate as for cases. Presently in Canada, over the past week, an average of close to 3,650 people with COVID-19 were being treated in our hospitals each day, with almost 600 in intensive care units, representing weekly increases of 91% and 25%, respectively. During the same period there were on average 39 deaths reported each day.
Currently, we still need millions more Canadians to increase their protection with COVID-19 vaccines, including almost 7 million eligible people who need a first or second dose of their primary series. As well, many others are eligible to get a booster dose to help restore protection that may have waned since their second dose. Moreover, there is accumulating evidence that a booster dose results in better protection against severe illness, including against the Omicron variant that appears to have a higher degree of immune evasion.
Booster doses are particularly important for certain groups, such as healthcare workers and those at highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults, people with high-risk medical conditions and people in and from indigenous communities. Either PfizerBioNtech or Moderna mRNA vaccines are effective as boosters so please feel confident in accepting whichever is vaccine offered to you.
As public health authorities continue with vaccination efforts, while closely monitoring local epidemiology for signs of peaking activity in the weeks to come, we can all help by reducing our contacts to get us through this difficult time that much faster. Practically speaking, we need to continue to:
- get fully vaccinated and receive a booster dose when eligible
- limit in-person contacts to immediate household members as much as possible, and
- Consistently use layers of personal protections to reduce the risks of exposure and spreading the virus, including wearing a good quality and snug-fitting face mask, maintaining good ventilation and following local public health advice.
This might feel like a double marathon that we didn’t sign up for, but despite feeling tired, we should have a sense of achievement for the ground we’ve covered so far, for staying on track, and knowing we can still draw strength from each other to get where we need to go.
Read my backgrounder to access COVID-19 Information and Resources, including information on vaccination and ways to reduce your risk of infection and spreading the virus to others.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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