As millions of Canadians spend their days at home, avoiding getting too close to anyone outside their households, one question rises above all: When will this be over?
Ashleigh Tuite is about as well-positioned as anyone to know the answer to that question. She’s an expert in developing mathematical models to forecast the spread of infectious diseases. Not only that, she’s part of a team at the University of Toronto that has been given federal money to specifically model the COVID-19 pandemic.
But when it comes to what may happen next in Canada, Tuite has no special insight.
“‘I don’t know’ is the honest answer,” she told CTVNews.ca Thursday via telephone.
“It’s a little bit too early, at least here and with the data we have, to be able to do the forecasting work that I think there’s a huge appetite for.”
Even knowing exactly how far Canada is into its COVID-19 outbreak is difficult. The number of cases in Canada rose by 42 per cent on Monday, 34 per cent on Tuesday and 22 per cent on Wednesday — but there are so many factors at play that it is impossible to reach any useful conclusions on whether the country is flattening its curve.
Testing activity is ramping up, but not at the same rate in every province, and not every part of the country is prioritizing the same cases for testing. There’s also inequity in processing backlogs — and that there are backlogs at all means today’s new cases involve people who first contracted the virus several days ago.
It takes even longer for the effects of closures, movement restrictions and other government actions to show up in the data. Because it is generally believed that the virus has an incubation period of up to two weeks, experts say it is only safe to assume that one day’s case number represents the results of actions taken 14 or more days earlier.
All of that results in a constant game of catch-up for doctors looking to treat patients, health authorities looking to implement the necessary measures to keep COVID-19 patients from flooding into hospital beds, and anyone looking to simply keep up with what’s happening.
“We don’t exactly know where we are on the epidemic curve, and we don’t exactly know where we were when we started having our strong public health response,” Tuite said.
To try to close that gap, some researchers look at the progression of the virus in other countries and try to adjust those experiences for the Canadian context. One team from York University in Toronto attempted to project the spread of COVID-19 in Canada based on the example of Italy, where more than 8,000 deaths have been recorded.
NOT THE ‘NEXT ITALY’
Italy is currently one of the world’s grimmest examples of the toll COVID-19 can take. Nearly one in 10 of Italy’s 80,000 known cases are health workers, and it is believed the real number of the infected is significantly higher, as the country has prioritized testing only those most likely to have the virus.
The York researchers found that Canada’s COVID-19 curve up to March 22 appeared similar to Italy’s about three weeks earlier. At that point, Italy was starting a mass quarantine of part of the country, while life still continued relatively normally in other regions for a few days. The full lockdown of the country was still a week away.
Because Canada had already cracked down on public gatherings before March 22, the researchers concluded that “Canada will not become the ‘next Italy,'” but warned of a worst-case scenario in which there would be 15,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada by March 31.
Even that scenario no longer appears to be a significant risk, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Nicola Luigi Bragazzi told CTVNews.ca on Thursday, because of the stricter measures Canada has taken since March 22, including requiring anyone entering the country to quarantine for 14 days.
“These measures are extremely useful and helpful,” he said via telephone.
Other scenarios modelled by the York team, involving various forms of government action, project caseloads far below 15,000 by March 31.
But when it comes to one of the country’s main goals right now — keeping the outbreak from overwhelming the health-care system — does the total number of cases even matter?
Tuite doesn’t think so. She says the number of deaths is a better indicator, albeit one with its own problems. COVID-19 deaths typically occur three to four weeks after infection, meaning projections based on deaths have a lag time even longer than what it takes for movement restrictions to be reflected in the data.
What she and many other researchers would like to see is data from each province on COVID-19-related hospitalizations — something most provinces are not yet routinely including in their updates. That would allow for a greater focus on only the most severe cases of the disease, while also making it easier to forecast how demand for hospital beds will change over time.
“If we’re able to monitor that, that will give us a very good sense of where we are in the epidemic,” Tuite said.
The models, projections and experts may have a hard time saying exactly what will happen with any confidence, but they all agree on one thing: the numbers will continue to rise for weeks.
Consistent large increases would be an obvious problem, because the health system would not be able to manage them for long. Consistent small increases could present a challenge of their own, as Canadians may take them as a sign that the measures enacted by the government were an overreaction.
This is another reason why Tuite wants to see more detailed communication from governments about how cases are being managed — because that information can then be used to help inform the public about the reality of the situation.
“If you’re asking people to buy into this, I think there needs to be a way to communicate that what we’re doing is having an impact,” she said.
Tuite pointed to the sudden escalation of the COVID-19 situation in New York City as an example of what can happen when public buy-in comes too late, suggesting that Canada could be in “a very different place” had government action and recommendations for physical distancing come a week or two later.
Bragazzi, too, cautioned that Canadians should not get complacent, noting that the effects of actions taken today will not be reflected in statistics for weeks. He suggested that Canada look to China, South Korea and Italy as examples of three approaches to fighting the virus with different outcomes.
“The critical time to act is now. Canada can benefit from and capitalize on the lessons of other countries,” he said.
There are signs that the government is trying to prepare Canadians for a longer life under not-quite-lockdown than they may have expected when the measures were first announced.
Asked at a press conference Wednesday about how long it might take the country to start returning to normal, Dr. Howard Njoo, the country’s deputy chief public health officer, responded that “if you look at the science and the evidence … it’s not days and weeks, but certainly months that this pandemic will endure.”
Trudeau pledges more help for vulnerable Canadians struggling with coronavirus crisis – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said more help is on the way for Canadian youth and seniors struggling with staying at home and accessing critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his daily address on Sunday, the prime minister first delivered a message to youth across the country, acknowledging for many Canadians “home isn’t a safe place to be” and that for “many more, they have no place to go at all.”
The federal government has pledged $7.5 million in funding to Kids Help Phone to provide mental health support to children and youth impacted by school closures and reduced access to social support and community resources.
The government will also boost aid for Canadian seniors, contributing $9 million through United Way Canada to help the country’s older population get groceries, medication and other critical items.
The aid will also go toward assessing seniors’ individual needs and connecting them to the necessary community resources.
The new relief measures come on top of previous commitments to assist Canadians experiencing homelessness, as well as those relying on women’s shelters, sexual assault centres and similar facilities in Indigenous communities.
WATCH | Trudeau speaks directly to Canadian youth:
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, kids relocate to Quebec cottage
On the advice of doctors, Trudeau continues to work from home despite the conclusion of his 14-day period of self-isolation.
His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau — who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month following a trip to the United Kingdom — took to social media late Saturday to say she had received a clean bill of health.
The prime minister said Sunday that he was “very happy” to receive the news.
“It’s been a few days since she’s been symptom-free, and obviously I want to thank everyone who’s sent messages of support.”
WATCH | Trudeau updates Canadians on his family:
Trudeau said he will remain at the family’s home in Ottawa while his wife and three children spend some time at the family’s cottage retreat in Quebec.
“Up to a few days before she was clear, I was still sharing a roof — we were being careful — but sharing a roof with someone who’d tested positive for COVID-19. So I have to continue in isolation in order to be sure that we’re following all protocols and the recommendations by Health Canada.”
As for other Canadians trying to follow recommended guidelines, the prime minister underscored the public health agency’s criteria about who gets a green light to go for walks in public.
“It’s very simple,” Trudeau said. “You can go for a walk unless you have … tested positive for COVID-19, unless you have symptoms of COVID-19 or unless you have returned from outside the country within 14 days.”
Restrictions tightened on domestic travel
On Saturday, Trudeau announced that anyone hoping to board a plane or train between cities and provinces who exhibits symptoms of coronavirus will be barred from travel as of noon ET Monday.
Personnel from air and rail companies will conduct health checks on passengers prior to boarding and can now prevent anyone showing signs of the illness from continuing on their journey.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that because interprovincial bus travel does not fall under federal jurisdiction, he would be working with provinces to recommend similar protocols for bus operators.
WHO expert's advice for Canada: don't just flatten the curve, curtail it – CTV News
The Canadian doctor at the forefront of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) fight against the novel coronavirus says Canada is taking the appropriate steps to flatten the curve, noting that the biggest challenge lies in the speed of finding new cases and isolating them.
“The danger that Canada faces, like any other country, are the cases you have in the country right now and how those are managed,” WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward told CTV News Channel via Skype from Geneva Sunday.
“It’s going to need to be more then flattening the curve—it’s flatten and curtail, or cut that curve as much as possible.”
The Canadian doctor has become the WHO’s leading expert on COVID-19. During the height of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the virus, Aylward led an international team on a fact-finding mission in the region.
As the outbreak spread across the world, Aylward studied the unprecedented response from global governments as they tried to “flatten the curve.”
“Canada has been doing all the right things,” Aylward said.
“It’s been working very hard to attack this on two fronts. The first is making sure the treatments and capacities are in place to take care of sick Canadians. But, as importantly, trying to find those cases rapidly and trying to isolate, because that’s what slows down the virus.”
Aylward says the best course of action in fighting this disease, so far, has proven to be a good defence and offence.
In a previous interview with CTV’s W5, he noted that China was able to stop the disease from spreading further by enacting “draconian” steps: self-isolation, mass quarantine and physical distancing measures.
He says both federal and provincial officials are taking the right steps to ensure the safety of Canadians, encouraging physical distancing measures and even shutting down provincial borders.
Our biggest challenge, he says, will be diagnosing and isolating mild cases of the disease to stop its rapid transmission.
“The only areas that have successfully managed to keep the numbers down have really been east Asia… China, Korea, Singapore. In all of these places what they did was make sure that they effectively isolated everybody with the disease, whether it was mild or serious disease, because they’re both going to spread the virus,” he said.
“You’ve got to do is take the heat out of this thing and that’s how they did it.”
Aylward says because the virus spreads so rapidly, the steps countries take to flatten the curve need to be equally as aggressive — something he admits is hard for the public to understand.
“Your real goal at this point is preventing your health services from being overwhelmed so you can take care of the seriously sick and save as many lives as possible,” he noted.
As of Sunday morning, more than 5,600 people in Canada have been infected with the virus and 61 have died.
Canada to provide more funding for seniors, vulnerable amid coronavirus pandemic: Trudeau – Global News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced increased funding for seniors, youth and other vulnerable groups that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking from the Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Sunday, he said the government will contribute $9 million through United Way Canada for local organizations that support practical services to Canadian seniors.
These services will include the grocery delivery, medications, and personal outreach to assess individuals’ needs and connect them to community supports.
“In a country like Canada, no one should be forgotten,” he said.
On Saturday, Trudeau announced that beginning Monday, domestic airlines and federally-regulated train operators will prevent anyone showing signs of illness from travelling.
“As of Monday at noon, people showing any signs whatsoever of COVID-19 will be denied boarding at all domestic flights and intercity passenger trains,” Trudeau told reporters.
A press release detailing the new measures also said the restrictions would require all air operators and intercity rail companies to do a “health check,” and screen their passengers before they come on board.
Coronavirus outbreak: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau says she has recovered from COVID-19
During her daily update on Saturday, Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Canada is “definitely not out of the woods” and that now is the time to “absolutely double down” on all efforts to stem the spread of the virus.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), as of 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country had topped 5,400.
Tam said as of Saturday over 184,000 Canadians had been tested for COVID-19.
She said seven per cent of cases need hospitalization, three per cent were critically ill. One per cent of cases so far have been fatal.
New data released by PHAC said 65 per cent of reported cases in Canada were linked to community transmission, while 35 per cent were either “exposed while travelling or exposed to a traveller returning to Canada.”
As of March 28, 2020, demographics, symptoms and outcomes were only available for 2,811 cases reported in Canada, providing a limited snapshot of who has caught the virus and how.
Coronavirus outbreak: Ottawa restricts domestic travel
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 12, also provided an update on Saturday, saying she was feeling “so much better” and had received the “all clear” from her physician and Ottawa Public Health.
During his daily update Prime Minister Trudeau said Sophie was “feeling great,” and confirmed that their children were also doing well.
“We’re all doing well,” he said, adding that he would continue to work from home.
–With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun, Maryam Shah and David Lao
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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