'COVID-19 does not take holidays': Experts urge caution as cases rise before long weekend

COVID-19 3 (CTV News)

Canadians are being urged to remain vigilant and practice good public health measures this long weekend and going forward as the number of active COVID-19 cases across the country surpasses 6,000.

Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. have all seen steady increases in the number of active COVID-19 cases recently, some recording numbers that haven’t been seen since the height of the outbreak.

COVID-19 does not take holidays, and we have seen weekend barbecues and other gatherings spark outbreaks in the past," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. 

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On Friday, Alberta announced 164 new cases, its tenth straight day of more than 100 newly logged infections. B.C. recorded 121 on Friday, bringing the provincial total to 1,233 active cases, the highest since the start of the pandemic. Quebec reported 184 new cases on Friday, a negligible dip from Thursday when it documented its biggest spike since the end of July. Neighbouring Ontario recorded its ninth straight day with more than 100 new cases.

With the Labour Day long weekend upon Canadians, several provincial health officials across the country urged caution and made particular note of the upcoming school year. Many children and young adults head back to school next week, while some already have. In Quebec, where classes resumed last month, officials identified 47 schools with at least one COVID-19 case. But as Canada’s top doctor noted this week, prevention starts outside the classroom. None of the cases identified at Quebec schools were transmitted within classrooms.

“Based on what we’ve seen in other countries, you will see cases in schools, but they’ll reflect what’s happening in the community,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam.

In B.C., health officials said the province "must maintain a very careful balance between fun and caution" over the long weekend and into the fall.

“Whether you’re celebrating the Canucks game tonight or meeting friends for a barbecue or camping, let’s make it a safe, small-group long weekend," wrote B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, in a press release.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford expressed concern that numbers were “slowly creeping up” in parts of the province and suggested small gatherings and face masks for the long weekend.

“Folks, I can’t stress it enough: please, if you have small group over, wear a face covering and enjoy yourselves but I'm just really concerned if this starts spreading again,” he said on radio program Newstalk 580 CFRA.

Ford had some more particular advice for Ontarians at a Friday press conference, saying people gathering over the weekend “shouldn’t be sharing anything.” “I don’t care if it’s those doobies, joints—whatever you want to call them—or drinks. Just don’t share them,” he said.

In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault implored people to take the “necessary measures” to protect themselves. “On the eve of the Labor Day long weekend, Quebeckers are urged to be careful,” he wrote in French on Twitter.

The messages come following weeks of an upward trend in the number of new cases of COVID-19 that had other experts concerned.

“You see this trend that has been very persistently increasing for the last several weeks,” infectious diseases expert Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti told CTV News Channel Friday.

“The absolute numbers are fairly low, but we have to remember the trend is what’s concerning.”

Chakrabarti says B.C.’s numbers are particularly concerning, given that the province was largely seen as a champion in flattening the initial curve.

B.C.'s first wave of COVID-19 peaked on April 28 when there were 717 confirmed cases in the province. By June, that number dipped to below 200.

On Aug. 10, B.C. surpassed 400 active cases. Now the province has more active cases than were reported at any point during the first wave.

“I do agree that B.C. needs to do something. They’re seeing a wave coming… they may need to intervene fairly soon,” Chakrabarti said.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Abdu Sharkawy says that while it’s too early to declare a second wave of COVID-19 in Canada, the rising case numbers need to be watched carefully.

“Those kinds of trends before we get into cooler weather aren’t what we want to see,” Sharkawy told CTV’s Your Morning.

“We need to allow a little more time to pass before we can properly gauge whether or not this is a trend or a blip on the radar.”

But Sharkawy, who has been working on the frontlines of the pandemic since the virus made its way into Canada, fears some Canadians have adopted the sentiment that the pandemic is effectively behind us.

“This is not the weather—we can change the trend of COVID-19,” he said.

“I don’t think we want to get ahead of ourselves and panic. What we see is a perfect reflection of the fact that if we move from an attitude of awareness and vigilance, to one of relevant complacency, that’s what happens.”

Sharkawy says that Canadians must remain vigilant about public health measures such as hand washing, distancing, and masking to prevent the spread of the virus, noting that these measures will become even more important as flu season ramps up.

“I think this is just a reminder that we can do this. It’s not something that can’t be changed—and the great news is, if we do it the right way, we’ll protect ourselves from the flu and spare ourselves two hardships,” he said.​ 

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