OTTAWA — Canada's chief public health officer says the country appears to have largely gotten a handle on the spread of COVID-19, limiting transmission after weeks of restrictions that are being slowly eased — raising the possibility of numbers going back up.
Dr. Theresa Tam said efforts since mid-March to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus seem to place the country far enough down from the peak of the first wave of the outbreak.
The figures released Monday by the Public Health Agency of Canada showed Quebec and Ontario still remain the most heavily affected regions of the country.
Tam said multiple distinct peaks in the curve for Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick should also serve as reminders that a resurgence of COVID-19 can happen in any place at any time, even in areas with low levels of community transmission.
She said that as restrictions lift, it will be even more important for Canadians to maintain physical distancing and good handwashing practices to keep case counts down, help with contact tracing and not overburden the health-care system.
"As restrictive public health measures are being lifted to minimize the unintended health, social and economic consequences (of the pandemic), we expect to see some resurgence of cases," she said during a midday briefing on Parliament Hill.
"The key is to keep the number of cases small through ongoing core public health practices. We must be able to rapidly detect and isolate cases and quarantine their contacts in order to keep any resurgence small and manageable."
The most recent figures provided by the federal public health agency put the country's total number of reported cases of COVID-19 at almost 103,250, including 8,522 deaths. Tam said 64 per cent have recovered and of the more tens of thousands being tested daily, only one per cent are testing positive.
Over the last eight weeks, each new case of COVID-19 has on average infected less than one person, a key metric that public health officials watch to determine whether the pandemic is being kept under control.
At this point, transmission of the novel coronavirus and the disease it creates — COVID-19 — are under control in most jurisdictions across the country, Tam said Monday.
Any fluctuations in that figure are now the result of smaller, localized outbreaks in a handful of hotspots, including Toronto, Montreal and around the border town of Windsor, Ont. where many migrant workers have contracted the disease.
Updated modelling figures released Monday by the federal public health agency now estimate there will be between 104,000 and 108,000 cases countrywide by July 12, and between 8,545 and 8,865 deaths by the same date.
Long-term care and assisted-living homes account for roughly one-fifth of all cases, and four-fifths of all deaths.
About eight per cent of COVID-19 cases have resulted in death; just over three per cent need intensive care.
Over the last few weeks, there has been a steep decline in cases among people over age 80, which has meant that people under the age of 40 account for a greater proportion of cases nationally.
A new explosion in cases could mean a return to tight restrictions that Canadians have lived with through the spring to get COVID-19 under control, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said before the updated figures were released.
Speaking outside his Ottawa residence, Trudeau said rising COVID-19 numbers in the United States demonstrate the need for continued vigilance north of the border, including keeping physical distance from each other wherever possible.
"It is going to be really, really important that everyone remains attentive and vigilant to their own behaviours so that we can prevent a second wave from arriving as we've seen in many places," Trudeau said.
Trudeau and public health officials plan to scale back the pace of their news conferences over the summer. The almost daily occurrence will now drop to twice a week for Tam and her deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo; Trudeau said federal officials might hold unscheduled updates if there is information to share.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2020.