Statement from Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on March 29, 2021

From: Public Health Agency of Canada

March 29, 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.

Monitoring the broader impacts of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of the population, especially among individuals at higher risk of exposure and/or severe outcomes, remains a priority. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), in collaboration with Statistics Canada, has funded and developed a new Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health, which examines how life satisfaction, sense of community belonging, self-rated mental health, and suicidal ideation have changed since 2019 among a diverse range of Canadian adults across a variety of sociodemographic characteristics. This survey also includes questions on parenting, use of alcohol and cannabis, as well as clinical screening tools to assess symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Initial findings from the survey show that one in five (21%) Canadians screened positive for depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder. Individuals screened positive for these disorders if their score on the screening tools indicated moderate to severe symptoms. Women and young adults aged 18 to 24 were more likely to report symptoms of these conditions. Many Canadians have been negatively affected by the pandemic; these impacts include feelings of loneliness or isolation, job or income loss, and difficulty meeting financial obligations or essential needs. Those reporting these impacts were four times more likely to screen positive for depression, anxiety or posttraumatic disorder. Results from this survey underscore the need to continue supporting the mental health and wellbeing of diverse Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is why the Government of Canada launched Wellness Together Canada in April 2020 to provide Canadians with access to free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Depending on their needs, individuals can access different levels of support, ranging from information and self-assessment tools, to connecting with peer support, social workers, psychologists and other professionals for confidential text sessions or phone calls. It also provides individuals the opportunity to assess their mental health and monitor their progress as they engage in their chosen care option.

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 965,404 cases of COVID-19, including 22,880 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 vaccine delivery ramps up at an accelerated pace, 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. Vaccine coverage is increasing across Canada, with benefits being seen in prioritized high-risk populations. As of March 29, more than 5.2 million doses have been administered across Canada. Ramp up of vaccine supply and acceleration of vaccination programs will return further benefits to protect more Canadians, over the coming weeks and months.

However, with COVID-19 activity increasing and a high proportion of cases involving more contagious variants of concern, strong public health measures and individual precautions must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating. Average daily case counts are rising nationally, driven by areas with high infection rates in Canada’s most populous provinces. The latest national-level data show a seven-day average of 4,057 new cases daily (March 19 to 25). Currently, there are 43,590 active cases across the country. Sustained high infection rates are also impacting lagging indicators of COVID-19 severity, which are levelling off or increasing, particularly in areas with elevated disease activity. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,194 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day period (March 19 to 25), including 605 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 29 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.

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 and evidence indicates that the B.1.1.7 variant of concern is associated with more severe illness outcomes in adults. 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 14 to 20, there were on average of 101,165 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 3.7% were positive for COVID-19. As of March 28, a total of 8,266 variant of concern cases have been reported across Canada, including 7,725 involving B.1.1.7 variants, 272 P.1 variants and 269 B.1.351 variants.

Amid the concerning trends of increasing disease activity, shifting severity trends, and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern, a high degree of caution must be maintained, while vaccination programs continue to accelerate. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly,informed by an assessment of key indicators and local circumstances, and accompanied by enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect and respond to variants of concern quickly. 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.

Contacts

Media Relations

Public Health Agency of Canada

613-957-2983

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