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

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

File photo
Castlegar sees spike in crime over winter

Local RCMP report increase in calls

Kirk Duff is running for mayor in the upcoming Castlegar byelection Photo: Submitted
Third candidate enters Castlegar mayor’s race

Kirk Duff previously served 18 years as a city councillor

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

The Kaslo Outdoor Recreation and Trail Society will build a trail on Mount Buchanan, seen here with society secretary Stuart Heard, with support from Columbia Basin Trust. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay trails receive Columbia Basin Trust funding

Several locations in the West Kootenay are undergoing upgrades

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

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

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
B.C. mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

Most Read