Some provinces see positive signs in COVID fight, but hospitalizations a concern

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Some provincial authorities saw encouraging signs in the fight against COVID-19 on Monday, even as experts warned that it's too soon to draw conclusions from the data and urged Canadians not to relax their efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

Officials in both Quebec and Manitoba noted that case numbers have dropped slightly in recent days and suggested that their populations' efforts to control the virus could be paying off.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said case numbers in his province appeared to be dipping.

"We’re definitely not out of the woods," he told a news conference as the province reported 118 cases.

"We certainly still have a long way to go before we can return to normal."

Roussin said the province is looking at easing some restrictions in the coming days, but that any changes would be gradual.

Quebec reported 1,634 new COVID-19 cases, which included about 200 from the previous day that weren't noted because of a delay.

The province had broken the 3,000-case mark in early January and has a seven-day rolling average of more than 1,900 cases a day.

Health Minister Christian Dube noted on Twitter that the Quebec City region in particular had seen a decline in the number of new infections recently, which he saw as a sign that "the sacrifices that we're asking of Quebecers are bearing fruit." However, he asked Quebecers to continue their efforts in order to reduce the number of hospitalizations, which rose Monday after three straight days of decline.

Universite de Montreal public health professor Benoit Masse said it will take another week or two to know whether the downward trend will be sustained and to gauge the impact of the recently imposed curfew. He said the province should know more by Feb. 8, when curfew restrictions are set to lift.

Ontario also reported its lowest number of COVID-19 cases since early January, with 2,578 new infections, but the province completed a little more than 40,000 tests Sunday, compared with more than 60,000 the day before.

Nova Scotia also reported no new cases for the second time this month.

The news was less positive in New Brunswick, where the Edmundston region entered the province's highest pandemic-alert level, ushering in new restrictions on businesses in the region after a record-breaking number of new cases on Sunday.

The province reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday after Sunday's all-time high of 36.

Ontario announced that a new hospital set to open in Vaughan, Ont. would be used to relieve a capacity crunch because of rising COVID-19 admissions. Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott said the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital would add 35 new critical care beds and 150 medical beds to the province's bed capacity.

Hospital capacity has been a concern in many provinces, with doctors in Ontario and Quebec being told to prepare for the possibility of implementing protocols to decide which patients get access to life-saving care in the case of extreme intensive care unit overcrowding.

Nationally, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are still increasing, according to Canada's chief public health officer.

Dr. Theresa Tam noted that hospitalizations tend to lag one or more weeks behind a surge in cases.

"These impacts affect everyone, as the health-care workforce and health system bear a heavy strain, important elective medical procedures are delayed or postponed, adding to pre-existing backlogs," she wrote in a statement.

She said an average of 4,705 COVID-19 patients a day were being treated in Canadian hospitals during the last seven days, including an average of 875 in ICUs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021

-- With files from Steve Lambert, Shawn Jeffords and Sidhartha Banerjee

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press