Canada is now fully in the grips of a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which data is suggesting could be more dramatic than past surges of the virus thanks to the highly contagious Delta variant.
Provinces and territories are now reporting more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases every day — a sharp turn from the plateau earlier this summer.
Friday marked the highest daily increase since May 24 of this year, with 3,755 new infections. The case count outpaced those reported on Wednesday and Thursday, which were also over 3,000. The last time cases were that high for a three-day stretch was the week of May 24.
Over the past week, over 20,000 new cases were reported — a seven-day average of nearly 2,934, the highest since May 31.
It marks a 640-per cent jump from the low of 396 cases per day on average in July, which had not been seen in nearly a year, before the start of the second wave last summer.
The increase is the sharpest from a plateau than at any other point in the pandemic, where past waves have seen more gradual spikes over the same period of time.
As with past waves, hospitalizations have begun to spike again as well. Thursday marked the first time since June that more than 1,000 patients were reported in hospital across the country. As of Friday, that number has climbed to 1,046.
Although the seven-day average sits around 900, that only reflects how sharply hospitalizations are rising. Over the past week, 300 more patients were admitted, adding to the over 700 already receiving care.
About 350 of the patients currently in hospital are in intensive care, according to provincial data.
Deaths have been somewhat harder to quantify, as some provinces — notably Ontario and Quebec — have recently reported fatalities that occurred earlier in the pandemic due to data corrections. But signs are pointing to an uptick similar to past waves.
While an average of about seven people were dying per day during this summer’s plateau, the average has now climbed back into the double digits. Twenty-six new deaths were reported Friday, 17 of them in Ontario alone.
The rising cases are largely being fuelled by surges in the most populous provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, some of which have posted daily counts matching April levels this past week.
Yet cases are also rising nearly everywhere else, including in the Northwest Territories, where its case count has tripled this month in its worst outbreak to date.
B.C. has reinstated its indoor mask mandate and ordered new curbs on gatherings and businesses in the province’s interior, where more than half of new cases are being reported.
Although Manitoba is not yet seeing a similar surge — the province just came out of its own third wave, which hit later than the rest of the country — masks are now being required there also.
The Delta variant is now making up about 90 per cent of all new cases, according to the latest data released by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
As of Aug. 7, that data also showed that less than one per cent of new cases are among Canadians who are fully vaccinated with two doses. Eighty-eight per cent were among those who have yet to receive even their first shot.
According to the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker project, which tracks provincial and territorial data, 83.7 per cent of eligible Canadians aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 75.8 per cent are fully vaccinated. Of the total population, 66 per cent have received both doses and 73 per cent have one.
Yet the pace of Canada’s vaccine rollout has slowed.
About 0.1 per cent of the population is getting their first dose every day, creating a plateau that pales to the sharp climb of vaccinations seen in the spring. Since July 1, just five per cent of Canadians have received a shot.
While second doses are being received at a faster pace, that too has started to slow, growing by less than 0.5 per cent every day.
Since Aug. 1, just over seven per cent of the population has become fully vaccinated, compared to over 22 per cent during the previous three weeks.
New federal modelling is set to be released on Sept. 3, which will likely show how much worse the fourth wave may get without further public health intervention. The last time a forecast was released was July 30.
In the meantime, provincial doctors and modellers have been issuing dire warnings about what September may have in store.
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.
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.
Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency physician in Calgary and co-founder of Masks4Canada, has calculated that Alberta’s case numbers are doubling roughly every 11 days. If that trend continues, he said, Alberta could see 2,400 daily cases by the middle of September.
“We’re in big trouble,” he previously told Global News.
–With files from Global’s Leslie Young and Jamie MauracherView link »