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‘We’re going to run out of time’: Health experts sound alarm as Canada’s coronavirus cases rise

Coronavirus: Uptick in Canada’s daily cases associated with young adults, health official says
WATCH: Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, deputy chief public health officer of Canada Dr. Howard Njoo remarked on the recent uptick of daily coronavirus cases in Canada, saying the vast majority of the increase in the proportion of cases is among young adults.

On Tuesday, Ontario recorded 203 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily total in three weeks.

Quebec reported 180 cases, the most since mid-June.

On Monday, B.C.’s medical officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, warned that the province was teetering on the brink of an “explosive growth” in cases after she reported more than 100 cases over the weekend.

Read more: Ontario reports 203 new coronavirus cases, highest single-day increase in 3 weeks

While Ontario’s numbers on Wednesday were a bit lower, overall, the number of Canadian cases reported each day has begun to tick upward — which is the opposite of what health officials want.

“We were averaging about 300 cases a day,” said Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer of Canada, at a briefing Tuesday. “More recently, that’s increased to 350. And now we’re in the neighbourhood of 450, 460 cases per day over the last four days or so.

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“That is of concern.”

Overall, Canada added 445 new cases on Tuesday, continuing a steady upward trend.

“I am quite concerned that the numbers are going back up,” said Robyn Lee, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

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The average number of people to whom each infected person spreads the virus, called “R0” by epidemiologists, has been rising recently, too. It’s now above one, according to the most recent weekly report from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which means that on average, each person spreads the virus to more than one other person.

In other words, the virus is spreading rather than shrinking.

Read more: ‘Explosive’ growth in COVID-19 cases could be on the way in B.C. if behaviour doesn’t change

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“If this number keeps going, if it keeps increasing, that means that more people are being infected for each person who has this virus,” Lee said. “We could very rapidly end up in the same spot that we were in a few months back where we were concerned about the hospital bed utilization and ICU bed availability.”

Dr. Matthew Pellan Cheng, an infectious disease doctor and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, says he’s not too concerned about the rise in case numbers yet.

We shouldn’t be alarmed at numbers from individual days, he said, but instead keep an eye on overall trends.

“I think we need to look at the general trajectory in that the number of cases is, indeed, slightly increasing but not at very, very elevated levels,” he said. “And it was expected that there’s going to be a slight uptick in the number of cases as most of the country reopens.

Read more: Ottawa health officials trace coronavirus spike to ‘shift’ in youth social behaviour

“I think the more important question is, what are we doing now with this information? Are we implementing appropriate contact tracing? Are we reinforcing important public health mitigation strategies? Are we going to let it continue or are we going to start planking the curve?”

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Lee doesn’t believe that we can continue to let cases rise for long without seeing serious consequences.

“We’re going to run out of time. I think we need to do stuff now,” she said. “There is going to hit a point where it spins out of control and we don’t have the resources to keep up with it.”

Coronavirus: Ford pleads with young people to follow health guidelines as uptick in cases rise
Coronavirus: Ford pleads with young people to follow health guidelines as uptick in cases rise

Many recent cases of COVID-19 have to do with younger adults attending indoor events, like house parties, and not restaurants and bars reopening, Njoo said.

“I don’t have any actual proof, but the thinking might be that as bars and restaurants and society opens, that is maybe in some ways a signal for people to think, ‘Oh, OK, I can let go.’

“Things are returning to normal and, therefore, they are getting together at indoor parties, probably with lack of social distancing and so on.”

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There’s still time to stop the trend if we act now, Lee said, but people have to remember to maintain physical distance, limit their contact with others and follow other such public health measures.

“I think we all need to recognize we’re in it for the long haul,” she said. “Unfortunately, until there’s a vaccine, this is something that is a part of our lives, meaning we do have to keep up with the physical distancing and we do have to keep going with the same precautions.”