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

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

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

Summerland residents have been receiving a telephone scam with the number showing as the telephone number of the local RCMP detachment. (Black Press Media files)
Summerland RCMP telephone number spoofed in scam calls

Number used in scam attempts from tax agency

Darrell RIchards and his Harley Davidson Streetglide in front of Discovery House in Penticton on Nov. 5. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton biker still in running to win custom chopper competition

Darrell Richards is sitting in first in the final round of the group stage

Gifts are being collected for the 50th annual Operation Santa Claus gift drive. New unwrapped items may be dropped off at the Summerland Review or McBain Insurance in Summerland. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Gifts collected for Summerland’s Operation Santa Claus

Summerland Review and McBain Insurance working on 50th annual holiday gift drive

(Phil Mclachlan - Western News file)
Emergency crews responding to overturned boat on Okanagan Lake

The boat, reported near Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, had two occupants

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

(Village of Lumby photo)
Mysterious, loud ‘boom’ shakes North Okanagan residents

Village staff, Earthquakes Canada aren’t sure what caused the explosion-like sound

Clarence Fulton students collect cash and non-perishable food donations for families in need in their community Friday, Nov. 27. (Jennifer Smith  - Morning Star)
North Okanagan students collect food for families in need

Annual event to support nine school families this year

Take a break from the slopes to discover the rich culture and diversity of Vernon. Michelle Beaudry photo, courtesy Tourism Vernon.
Tourism Vernon could see 40% cut to budget due to COVID-19

New approach to help residents and visitors activate their adventures

Follow public health recommendations, says Interior Health as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Revelstoke. (Image courtesy CDC)
Revelstoke positive COVID cases grows to 29

Interior Health announced a cluster in the community on Nov. 26

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Penticton law courts
Osoyoos child sex offender in court

Shawn Titus, 37, is charged with possession of child porn

Leighton Allen Labute faces charges of animal abuse and allegedly has a string of social media accounts depicting disturbing content.
Accused Kelowna hamster killer has trial date set for 2021

Leighton Labute’s three day trial is scheduled for Aug. 16, 2021

Most Read