COVID-19 in Canada: Ontario breaks single-day record for new cases; B.C. faces 'critical' two-week stretch

Elisabetta Bianchini
·8 min read

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COVID-19 in Canada
COVID-19 in Canada

‘This next two weeks is critical for us across the province’

British Columbia’s restrictions have put an end to both indoor and outdoor holiday events, including Bright Nights in Stanley Park in Vancouver, until Dec. 7 at the earliest.

“If we are able to get to a place of control, some of the lower risk events might happen again,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, said. “This next two weeks is critical for us across the province.”

For three time periods, from Friday to Monday, B.C. confirmed 1,933 more COVID-19 cases. There are currently 7,360 active cases in the province, with 970 active cases in long-term care homes.

The province confirmed another 17 COVID-19 deaths over the weekend. At the moment, there are 277 people in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19, including 59 in critical care.

“It is the most challenging of our time and we are all feeling the strain,” Dr. Henry said. “This virus doesn’t pause though when we’re tired and frustrated, and we want it to be over, and it doesn’t pause when we’re out with our friends, our family spreads quickly and doesn’t wait for us to catch up.

“Over the next two weeks, we need to urgently reduce the level of transmission in our province to keep our schools and workplaces open, and relieve that very real stress we are seeing right now on our healthcare system.”

Dr. Henry stressed that everyone in the province needs to keep to their household and reduce interactions with others. She equated the COVID-19 pandemic to an Ironman Triathlon with three different “strenuous” legs of the race.

“Now we’re on the bike ride and this bike ride has some big hills to climb, and we don’t know exactly when this part of the race is going to end,” Dr. Henry said. “But we all know that while you may have to slow down when you’re going uphill, we can get over the top and we can enjoy the downhill on the other side.

“But right now, we have a distance to go and we don’t know yet where the finish line is. The next leg is not quite in sight, which means we need to gather our focus and our energy.”

Ontario hits new record high for reported COVID-19 cases

Ontario reported 1,589 new COVID-19 cases Monday, including 535 new cases in Peel, 336 in Toronto and 205 in York Region. This is a new single-day record in case counts for the province.

This comes as both Toronto and Peel regions move into the first day of a 28 day lockdown. At a press conference on Monday, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health said the lockdown term in these regions is “fixed.”

Dr. Yaffe stressed that although individuals and businesses in the province may be upset about the lockdown, “we cannot let the numbers just keep going up.”

“Our data on where cases acquire their infection, or where it’s transmitted, is somewhat limited by the fact that some of the health units are so overwhelmed...that we aren’t able to identify in about at least a third of cases where they acquired it,” she said. “That’s evidence of widespread community transmission, so it’s happening wherever people get together.”

She added that the data on outbreaks of COVID-19 only reflects about 10 per cent of cases.

The province also confirmed 19 additional deaths, bringing the total to 3,505.

There are currently 507 people in Ontario hospitalized with COVID-19, including 156 people in ICU, surpassing the threshold of 150, where surgeries and other procedures would have to be cancelled.

At the moment, 101 long-term care homes are reporting an outbreaks, which includes 528 active resident cases and 467 active staff cases.

The province also reported 60 new school-related COVID-19 cases, including 51 student cases and nine staff cases. Three schools in Ontario are currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns.

More guidance on Christmas, Hanukkah celebrations in Ontario coming this week

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, revealed that likely mid-week, provincial officials will have more guidance on how different regions will be allowed to celebrating upcoming holidays safely, including Christmas and Hanukkah.

Despite the upcoming recommendations, Dr. Williams said that it is “unlikely” that Toronto and Peel will be able to reduce COVID-19 enough to get out of all lockdown measures.

“I would be surprised if we were down by that much,” he said. “Is it possible? It could be.”

Dr. Williams added that he also wouldn’t want to see everyone “burst out” just in time for Christmas and New Year Eve celebrations, which could result in an “upswing” in case numbers.

News task force to tackle vaccine distribution in Ontario

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the appointment of Rick Hillier, former chief of defence staff for the Canadian Forces, as chair of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force. This news comes as the premier said “military precision” is necessary to effectively manage vaccine distribution.

Ford said vaccines will be “absolutely critical” for truly battling the virus, but rolling out the vaccine will be “a massive logistical challenge,” with the expectation being that vaccines will become available in early 2021.

Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott said the province has a “pretty good idea” about the vaccine supply Ontario will get, based on a per capita distribution. She added it’s expected that people in long-term care facilities and frontline healthcare workers will be prioritized, but will need to be vaccinated twice for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be effective, which will also require precise clinical records.

The Ontario government also tabled a motion to reappoint Dr. David Williams as the provincial chief medical officer of health.

“I just do not ever believe in changing a dance partner in the middle of a dance, especially when he’s an incredible dancer,” Ford said.

More measures likely coming to Alberta tomorrow

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, kept her update brief on Monday because she was about to meet with cabinet to put forward recommendations for additional measures in the province. It’s expected that an update on these measures will come tomorrow.

Alberta reported 1,549 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, with about 19,500 tests completed. The test positivity rate in the province has reached eight per cent and there are active alerts or outbreaks in 304 schools. The province also confirmed five more COVID-19 deaths and there are currently 328 people in Alberta hospitals, including 62 in ICUs.

“It’s clear that we have reached a precarious point in Alberta,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “The virus is spreading faster and more widely than at any other point during the pandemic.”

“This is like a snowball rolling down a hill growing bigger and faster, and it will continue unless we implement strong measures to stop. We must take action, waiting any longer will impact our ability to care for Albertans in the weeks and months ahead.”

Alberta adds limits to contact tracing due to high demand

Dr. Hinshaw also announced that the team responsible for case investigations has not been able to keep up with the current demand.

Effective Tuesday, if 10 days have passed since an Albertan received their positive COVID-19 test result, Alberta Health Services (AHS) will no longer conduct a case investigation and contact tracing. Instead, these people will receive a text message that will provide guidance on if and when their isolation period has ended.

“I am sorry that this change will leave a group of people without the opportunity to have a conversation with AHS to understand where they acquired the infection and how to better prevent onward spread, but we must focus on looking forward and using our contact tracers where they have the greatest impact,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

This comes after the province’s top doctor asked AHS to start with the most recently diagnosed cases and work backwards for contact tracing, “prioritizing the cases that will have the greatest benefit in reducing further transmission.”

Management of this contact tracing backlog does not impact healthcare workers and people in continuing care.

Dr. Hinshaw added that Alberta “may not” be able to track and record every case linked to a school in the last two weeks.

“The best thing we can do to protect schools is to lower community transmission,” she said.

Beginning Monday, all Albertans who test positive for COVID-19 will receive a text message instead of a phone call at the end of their isolation period.

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