Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday October 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday October 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Long-term care deaths surged in COVID-19 first wave, Tam hopeful it won’t repeat

Canada ranked 79th out of 201 countries in terms of total cases per million population

Long-term care deaths accounted for nearly 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada during the first wave of the pandemic, but the country’s chief public health officer thinks a repeat can be avoided amid a new spike in cases.

A snapshot of Canada’s COVID-19 situation during the first wave of the pandemic was outlined in Dr. Theresa Tam’s annual report released Wednesday, one day after Canada passed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths.

“Everything has been done to prevent the repeat of what we’re seeing in the first wave,” Tam said, adding that more support and stricter rules are in place in facilities housing the country’s most vulnerable population.

“I think what we have seen is there has been a number of best practices, infection prevention control practices within long-term care facilities, and they have to be followed diligently.”

Tam said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities involving groups such as seniors, essential service workers, agriculture sector employees, women and racialized Canadians.

She says those groups are disadvantaged in Canadian society and were disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“The virus didn’t create new inequities in our society,” Tam said. “It exposed them and underscored the impact of our social policies on our health status.”

She said strong leadership, firm data and sustained funding for public health are all keys going forward in fighting the pandemic.

“One thing that is difficult for public health is to advocate for sustained investments and avoid the sort of boom and bust,” Tam said.

“Public health is invisible when there are no cases, when we’ve done our job, so it’s very difficult to advocate for public health capacity when you’ve prevented things from happening.”

READ MORE: Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The country’s hardest hit provinces remain Quebec and Ontario, with Premier Doug Ford saying the numbers Wednesday were trending in the right direction with 834 new cases and five additional deaths.

Quebec, which has seen new infections stabilize in recent weeks, added 929 new infections and 17 new deaths.

Tam said while the younger age groups have been driving infections during the second wave, the cases are starting to enter long-term care homes. However, most outbreaks have been smaller than the first time around.

COVID-19 hit Canada’s long-term care homes hardest during the first wave of the pandemic. The Public Health Agency notes that as of August, Canada had one of the highest fatality rates among long-term care home residents out of the 37 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Tam’s report noted that globally, Canada ranked 79th out of 201 countries in terms of total cases per million population and 26th for total deaths per million population, driven mainly by the situation in long-term care.

Also, people working in essential services were at higher risk of exposure, with health-care workers accounting for 19 per cent of national cases as of mid-August and outbreaks reported in 23 agricultural workplaces during the same time frame.

On Wednesday, Statistics Canada said the more than 7,000 excess deaths recorded during March and June are comparable to COVID-19 figures from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database — the official source of death-related data in Canada.

The statistics agency said the number of deaths dipped to normal levels in July but has surged again during the first 10 days of October, surpassing monthly totals for August and September and suggesting Canada will see an increase in excess deaths this month.

Excess mortality, more deaths than usual during a period of time, is an important measure in understanding both the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it shows the majority of excess can be accounted for by COVID-19,” Tam said. “But there could be other excess mortality, sometimes as a result of some of the measures that we’ve put in.”

Tam’s report noted that opioid deaths also increased, with evidence suggesting the pandemic has created a setback as border restrictions led to a more toxic illegal drug supply.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CanadaCoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

Corey Harkness, who is free on bail, is slated to make his first appearance in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops on Dec. 14, 2020. A trial date has not yet been set. (COREY HARKNESS/FACEBOOK)
Accused in Cache Creek homicide will stand trial

Corey Harkness, 33, is charged with second-degree murder

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
47 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

1,538 total cases, 399 are active, ten in hospital

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 65 new cases of COVID-19

Province-wide, there are 887 new cases of the virus

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is also the minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

Business groups have been advocating for years that local approvals for construction in B.C. are too long and restricted, and that B.C.’s outdates sales tax deter business investment. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents worried about COVID-19 deficit, business survey finds

Respondents support faster local approvals, value added tax

The first of two earthquakes near Alaska on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, is shown in blue. (USGS)
No tsunami risk after two earthquakes near Alaska

Both earthquakes hit near the U.S. state on Dec. 1

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

Paramedics register patients at a drive through, pop-up COVID-19 test centre outside the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, in Ottawa, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians aren’t currently worried that people in other countries might get a COVID-19 vaccine first. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canadians not worried other countries will get COVID-19 vaccine first: poll

Forty-one per cent of respondents say they want the vaccine to be mandatory for all Canadians

Most Read