Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Canada’s top physician painted a bleak picture Saturday of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic may take on the country, expressing fears the number of pandemic-related hospitalizations and deaths could increase in the coming weeks as the second wave drives the national death toll toward 10,000.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the number of Canadians experiencing severe illness is already on the rise amid a spike in cases that saw two provinces report new single-day highs Saturday.

The number of active COVID-19 cases rose 16 per cent week over week, according to figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The sharp uptick left an average of 1,010 patients being treated in hospital each day over the past week, about 20 per cent of whom were in intensive care, Tam said.

Average daily deaths associated with the virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago.

However, Tam said the most critical health consequences associated with the spike have yet to emerge.

“As hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag behind increased disease activity by one to several weeks, the concern is that we have yet to see the extent of severe impacts associated with the ongoing increase in COVID-19 disease activity,” she said in a written statement.

“As well, influenza and respiratory infections typically increase during the fall and winter, placing increased demands on hospitals. This is why it is so important for people of all ages to maintain public health practices that keep respiratory infection rates low.”

The fatality numbers pushed the country closer to a grim milestone, with the death toll standing at 9,922 as of Saturday afternoon. The national case total reached 213,958.

Tam’s comments came the same day Ontario reported a new single-day high of 978 new coronavirus cases, along with six more deaths.

Despite the alarming tally, politicians from the province’s Halton Region published a letter Saturday pleading for an exemption from stricter public health measures.

The Ontario government has already moved the long-standing hot spots of Ottawa, Toronto and the neighbouring regions of York and Peel to a modified Stage 2, which includes suspension of indoor dining at bars and restaurants. But rising case numbers elsewhere prompted Premier Doug Ford to announce Friday that officials would review the situation in Halton, Durham Region and other areas.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported that daily cases again topped 1,000, with 26 deaths and 549 patients now in hospital, 17 per cent of whom were in intensive care.

The average daily case count there remains higher than any other province, but appears to have plateaued for the time being since a peak of 1,364 on Oct. 6, the same week that tight new restrictions went into effect.

Still, the rising tide of cases across much of Canada appears unlikely to recede unless stricter measures are not imposed, said Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto who studies infectious diseases.

“This is a disease that grows exponentially … and when things ramp up quickly they come on with gangbusters. We’ve seen that everywhere else around the world right now, especially in Europe,” Morris said.

“As it moves to older adults, you’re going to see more people proportionally with severe disease. I believe we’re at a point right now where these increases are largely inevitable unless there’s more substantial action to try to tamp all of this second wave down.”

School closures should be a last resort, but tighter limits on group gatherings and indoor activities may be necessary, Morris said.

“It is a mindset … When the public hears that there’s still a fair amount of freedom from the government, what that also tells them is that it really isn’t so bad right now.”

Prairie numbers confirm the situation is growing more dire, with Manitoba recording 153 new cases and two additional deaths Saturday, the fifth consecutive day new cases have topped 100.

Outbreaks have been declared on two units at Winnipeg’s Victoria General Hospital, as well as at the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie.

Saskatchewan announced 78 new cases of COVID-19, making it the second province to report a new single-day high on Saturday.

Alberta yet again broke two records on Friday, reporting an unprecedented 432 new cases and 3,651 active cases ahead of the weekend.

The province has been topping itself throughout the month, which kicked off with 140 new cases and 1,546 active cases on Oct. 1.

— with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Rob Drinkwater

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Small Works display features work from local artists on wood panels. Panels are available at Ranger Station Art Gallery (File Photo)
Small Works submission deadline approaching

Ranger Station Art Gallery seeks local artists for upcoming display

Signs up at Hope Secondary School inform visitors that the school is a closed campus during the coronavirus pandemic. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Second COVID-19 exposure at Hope Secondary School

Fraser Health website lists exposure on Nov. 11 and 12

New Chilliwack Chief Ray Fust.
Chilliwack Chief Ray Fust in the mix for Swiss U20 roster spot

Fust is hoping to make the team that will compete in the World Junior Hockey Championships

An employee at a Chilliwack McDonald’s location tested positive for COVID on Nov. 21 (File photo by The Associated Press)
Employee tests positive for COVID-19 at McDonald’s restaurant in Chilliwack

One case was detected at the Vedder Road location, which briefly closed its doors

Contributed graphic/District of Kent
Snow Angels seek volunteers

As winter is coming, volunteer shovelers are wanted

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

Most Read