Statement from Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on May 15, 2021

From: Public Health Agency of Canada

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.

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