Public health officials and infectious disease experts are urging Canadians to limit their contacts over the holidays to avoid a potentially devastating spike in the number of cases of the novel coronavirus which continues to spread rapidly across the country.
Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said Canadians should expect to see a “grotesque” spike in the number of COVID-19 infections after the holidays “because of family visiting.”
“This will tend to be in homes, in close quarters, with shared air, for prolonged periods, without masks, and involving mixing people from different households,” Furness wrote in an email to Global News.
Furness said there will be a lot of “close physical contact.”
“These are all risk factors for COVID,” he said. “And because COVID is already so prevalent in the community — far more so than say, at Thanksgiving which is a much smaller holiday — there will be a significant increase.”
What happened after Thanksgiving?
Over the summer, it appeared Canada had flattened the curve of the pandemic. However, by early fall, the number of new infections began to rise steadily again.
By Sept. 23, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that many areas of the country were already experiencing the second wave of the pandemic.
On Oct. 12 — Thanksgiving — Canada had seen a total of 184,645 confirmed cases of the virus.
In the 14 days after the holiday, more than 35,000 new cases were detected, reaching 219,982 infections by Oct. 26.
Since Thanksgiving, Canada has reported over 343,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus.
Manitoba was hit especially hard by the post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 spike.
Earlier this month, the province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the death rate in Manitoba increased by more than nine times between Thanksgiving and Dec. 11.
Since the pandemic began, Manitoba has seen 605 deaths related to COVID-19. Of those fatalities, 571 have occurred since Thanksgiving.
Thousands of new cases reported daily
As cases continue to rise across the country, experts have urged Canadians to heed public health measures by avoiding social gatherings and limiting their contacts over the holidays.
On Wednesday, just two days before Christmas, Canada reported 6,846 new cases of the virus, and health officials said another 172 people had died after falling ill.
Over the past seven days, an average of 6,629 cases have been reported daily across the country.
Furness said he worries that people who are infected with the virus over the next several days “will not have a hospital bed in January when they need it.”
By Wednesday, 3,625 people across the country were hospitalized due to the virus, jumping by nearly 200 since Sunday.
Earlier this month, the total number of hospitalizations in Canada surpassed the record set during the first wave of the pandemic in May, when 3,056 people were in hospital.
In mid-August the number of hospitalizations dropped and remained in the 200s, before steadily increasing again in the middle of September.
How many cases could Canada see after the holidays?
Furness said it is “very hard to predict” just how big of a spike Canada could see after the holidays, because we don’t know exactly how much mixing is going on.
“But a doubling in daily cases seems possible to me,” he wrote. “I’d like to be wrong about that, and I hope I am.”
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In a previous interview with Global News, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto, said everyone in Canada should be limiting their contacts as much as possible.
“I think that’s a very safe rule because it’s easy to understand: If you don’t live under that roof, don’t go into that house,” he said. “It’s a very simple message to understand.”
Modelling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada earlier this month suggests if the country continues on its current trajectory, it could see between 12,000 to 14,000 new cases daily by January.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said it is a “perilous time” for the country.
“Canada remains on a trajectory for even stronger resurgence of the next two months and our actions to #SlowtheSpread remain crucial,” she wrote.
Tam said as infection rates remain “very high” in several areas of the country, Canadians “must celebrate holidays differently this year and carry on with our public health practices through the coming weeks and months.”
Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday, Trudeau urged Canadians to “do the right thing” and refrain from holding large gatherings over the holidays.
“If people don’t follow public health rules now, we could be in for an even more difficult winter than we’re already going to have,” he said.
Instead of gathering in person, the prime minister said Canadians should take advantage of the “miracles of technology.”
“Reach out over Zoom, reach out over the phone to make sure people know we’re thinking of them,” he said. “And part of our love for them and thinking of them is not showing up to give them a hug this Christmas.”
-With files from Global News’ Rachael D’Amore and Emerald Bensadoun
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canadians leaving big cities in record numbers: Statistics Canada – CTV News
Canada’s biggest cities are experiencing a record-breaking loss of people as urbanites move to smaller bedroom communities in search of affordable homes.
According to a new Statistics Canada report, Montreal and Toronto both saw a record loss of people from July 2019 to July 2020 as urban-dwellers moved to the suburbs, smaller towns and rural areas.
Toronto lost 50,375 people over those 12 months while nearby Oshawa, Ont. saw its population grow by 2.1 per cent — the fastest population growth in the country. Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo in Ontario and Halifax were tied for the second-fastest growth, at 2 per cent.
Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter said this shift is great news for his city.
“It really introduces us to greater opportunities: new families, new friends, new communities and it really adds to the wonderful fabric of the city of Oshawa,” Carter told CTV News.
Over the same period, Montreal lost 24,880 people, while nearby communities such as Farnham, Que. and Saint-Hippolyte, Que. saw their populations rise.
Experts say the pandemic has accelerated the urban-to-suburban trend as more employers shift to a work-from-home model and young, first-time buyers look beyond the city for more affordable properties.
This shift has also inspired plenty of competition in communities where bidding wars are anything but typical.
“With the low supply issues that we are seeing in a lot of the major markets across the country, that is creating some challenges if you want to buy a home just because there is less to choose from,” said Geoff Walker, an Ottawa realtor.
Despite urban areas posting overall population growth due to international migration, the report found that high numbers of people from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver chose to move away.
And despite border closures during the pandemic, international migration from July 2019 to July 2020 accounted for 90 per cent of the growth in Canadian cities. That number drops to just over one-third of growth in other regions.
Real estate markets in Canada’s biggest cities continued to grow during the past year, but Robert Hogue, a senior economist at RBC, expects some of that action to calm in the year to come.
“The very high levels of activity in the late stages of 2020 are probably going to settle down through the course of 2021,” said Hogue.
Canada’s COVID-19 deaths have now surpassed 18,000 – Global News
Canadian health officials reported 6,433 new infections of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, pushing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 708,616. Another 149 people had died after testing positive for the virus in Canada on Sunday, pushing the total past the 18,000-mark.
So far, 615,324 people have recovered from COVID-19 and health authorities have administered 570,742 vaccine doses to protect from the virus. More than 20,484,800 tests for the respiratory illness have been administered to date.
New cases of the virus continue to surge in communities across the country. In a statement Sunday, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the current momentum of the epidemic and continued high rates of infections would continue to create a “rapid accumulation” of cases until the country could significantly interrupt its spread.
According to Tam, the latest national daily averages in new cases showed that the virus was spreading with high infection rates across all age groups, and that infection rates remained highest among those aged 80 years and older who are the most vulnerable to a severe outcome.
“Likewise, outbreaks continue to occur in high-risk populations and communities, including hospitals and long term care homes, correctional facilities, congregate living settings, Indigenous communities, and more remote areas of the country.”
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In Quebec, the province hit hardest by COVID-19, health authorities recorded 1,744 new cases of the virus and 50 deaths.
So far, 242,714 people have tested positive for the virus while 9,055 people have died after falling ill.
The numbers come several days after the province’s 8 p.m. curfew went into effect. The curfew will be in place for the next four weeks as Quebec works to quell its surging case numbers.
On Saturday, a group of protesters gathered to denounce the provincial curfew, arguing it creates a “climate of fear” among residents.
Meanwhile, health authorities in Ontario said 3,422 more people had tested positive for the virus, pushing the provincial tally to 237,786.
They said 69 more people had died, for a total of 5,409.
The news comes as the province extends its window for Canadians receiving their second dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine from the recommended 21 days to up to 42 days to compensate for shipping delays.
“Vaccination of residents, staff and essential caregivers of all long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes in Ontario will continue, with the goal of having the first dose administered in all homes no later than mid-February,” the provincial government said in an earlier release.
“In the meantime, we are working to expand the number of vaccination sites to prepare for the demand for vaccination during Phase Two.”
In Manitoba, 189 more infections were reported by health officials, as well as eight more deaths. To date, the province has seen 27,511 confirmed cases of the virus and 769 people have died.
Alberta saw another 750 cases on Sunday, as well as another 19 deaths. Saskatchewan found another 287 cases on Sunday as well as another three deaths.
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Several provinces in Atlantic Canada recorded new cases on Sunday as well.
New Brunswick reported another 36 cases, Nova scotia four more and Newfoundland and Labrador just one additional infection.
Worldwide, cases of the virus continue to increase rapidly with a total of 94,826,490 people having been diagnosed with the virus to date, according to Johns Hopkins University. Another 2,027,419 people have since died from COVID-19, with the U.S., Brazil and India leading in both cases and deaths.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
COVID-19 worsening Canadian students' diets, inactivity, alcohol consumption: study – CTV News
A new Canadian study has found that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased unhealthy behaviour in post-secondary students.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, reported that isolation brought on by the novel coronavirus has led to a “significant worsening of already poor dietary habits, low activity levels, sedentary behaviour, and high alcohol consumption among university students.”
Nutrition professor and lead author of the study, Gordon Zello, said in a press release that the findings could be used to help students maintain healthy behaviours going forward.
“Our findings are important because university students, especially those most vulnerable for poor nutrition and sedentary behaviour, should be targeted for interventions aimed at maintaining and improving physical activity and dietary practices during this pandemic and beyond,” Zello said.
Researchers noted the study is the first to assess “changes in students’ dietary intake, physical activity, and sedentary behaviour” amid COVID-19.
The findings were published Friday in the peer-reviewed medical journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.
The study looked at 125 graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina who were living independently or had roommates, but were responsible for buying and preparing their own meals.
Over the course of the four-month study, the students responded to online questionnaires about their food and drink consumption, physical activity and sedentary behaviour before and during the pandemic.
The study started just as Saskatchewan was imposing COVID-19 restrictions, according to researchers. Zello said this timing ensured that details of students’ eating and activity habits prior to the pandemic and during it were “fresh” in their minds.
“With pre-pandemic research already showing university students to be a vulnerable group for inadequate diet and physical activity, the measures imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity to examine further impact on their lives,” Zello said.
The study found that the students consumed less food every day during the pandemic compared to before.
Researchers say the students ate 20 per cent less meat, 44 per cent less dairy, and 45 per cent fewer vegetables as the pandemic continued.
While they drank considerably less caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and tea, Zello said the students’ alcohol consumption “increased significantly.” He added that these dietary habits could pose serious health implications following the pandemic.
“This dietary inadequacy combined with long hours of sedentary behaviour and decreased physical activity could increase health risks in this unique population during COVID-19 confinement and once the pandemic ends,” Zello explained in the release.
The researchers behind the study noted that “several reasons” may explain the students’ dietary shift.
Zello said that public health measures implemented to help stop the spread of COVID-19, such as reduced grocery store hours and restaurant closures, may have limited students’ shopping frequency and the availability of healthy food options.
According to the study, previous research has shown that psychological distress brought on by the coronavirus has been linked to “poor diet quality, particularly increased consumption of alcohol.” With that in mind, the study said that students may be eating less to counteract their lack of exercise and “increased sedentariness.”
Researchers found that only 16 per cent of the students studied were meeting Canadian guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week prior to the pandemic. They say that “further decreased” to 9.6 per cent during COVID-19.
Of those that were meeting Canadian activity guidelines before the pandemic, researchers say 90 per cent became less active.
The number of hours spent in “sedentary behaviour,” sitting or lying down with little energy expenditure, also rose by three hours to approximately 11 hours a day, according to the study.
“There’s no doubt that measures such as the closures of gyms and other recreational facilities by the universities and other private and public establishments within the province resulted in reductions in the level of physical activity,” the study said.
Researchers say another reason for the decrease in physical activity may be that many students were no longer walking to school after universities moved to remote learning formats.
The study noted that 55 per cent of students studied were employed before the pandemic, and only 49 per cent continued to be employed in the following months, adding to the overall decrease in activity.
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