With case numbers shooting up in Ontario, Alberta and B.C., health experts worry that Canada could be going into its worst wave of COVID-19 yet, unless governments act now to stop it.
“We’re in big trouble,” said Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency physician in Calgary and co-founder of Masks4Canada.
His calculations show that Alberta’s case numbers are doubling roughly every 11 days. So, if that trend continues, he said, Alberta could see 1,200 new cases per day in early September, and 2,400 daily cases by the middle of the month.
“There’s definitely been a noticeable increase in the number of COVID-19 patients that are coming into hospital over the last two weeks or so,” said Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency doctor in Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital and Stollery Children’s Hospital.
“Opening schools again in September is going to certainly fuel the fire in a significant way. And I’m worried about what that means for our children who cannot be vaccinated right now. And I’m worried about what that means for the hospitals.”
Alberta reported 744 new cases on Aug. 19, according to the government website. The highest number of cases ever reported in a single day was 2,389 on April 30, 2021.
It’s not the only province where cases are expected to increase.
Projections released Aug. 18 by the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group suggest that case numbers there are doubling every nine days, and predicts that without intervention, “cases will soon exceed record levels.”
The province could see 10,000 cases per day, said Dan Coombs, a mathematics professor at the University of British Columbia and member of the modelling group, but he believes that public health authorities would enact measures to curb the spread before things got that bad.
With children not yet able to be vaccinated, the BC Modelling Group expects that many cases would be in young children.
In Ontario, if nothing changes, there could be 7,000 cases per day by mid-October, according to Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease physician in the Sinai Health System in Toronto. This is well above the approximately 4,700 peak in early April.
The combination of the more transmissible Delta variant and looser restrictions means that the virus is experiencing exponential growth, she said.
“So if we don’t do something about it, our upward trajectory will increase in speed and we will inevitably move to a lot more cases and more hospitalizations and more ICU patients,” McGeer said.
To stop this, we need to do more than just vaccinate people, Vipond said. “Unfortunately, we were told that the pandemic could end with vaccines. It has not and it will not.”
“We know what we need to do. We need to shut down mass gatherings and we need to close indoor dining for a period of time. These are the things that need to take place,” he said.
“It’s nice that we had a little bit of a break in the summer, that we were able to see people and we were able to do things. But we are going to have to roll that back. Not to nothing, not to lockdown, but back from where we are now,” McGeer said.
This could be continuing to have people work from home when possible, she said, and refocusing again on masking and keeping social distancing.
Having limits on the size of social gatherings would help too, says Mithani, as would vaccine passports. “I do think it’s the people that are making the right decisions, like getting vaccinated, that should enjoy the freedoms of being able to be around other people,” she said.
She also says that provinces need to ensure that everyone has easy access to vaccines.
While McGeer knows that Canadians are frustrated at this point in the pandemic and just want to go back to normal, it unfortunately doesn’t matter, she said.
“It’s a virus and the virus does not care what you and I think. It does not care how tired we are of dealing with this. It does not care about anything except going on its merry way infecting people,” McGeer said.
“So I understand how miserable the choices are, but it doesn’t alter the fact that if we don’t do something about the increasing number of cases, we’re going to push our health care system over the limit again. And many people are going to die.”
— with files from Jamie Mauracher, Global News