COVID-19 in Canada: Canada's top doctor says pandemic 'exposed' societal inequalities; Ontario to reveal new modelling data on Thursday

Elisabetta Bianchini
·9-min read

For more on today’s top stories and the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country, please refer to our live updates below throughout the day, as well as our COVID-19 news hub.

New Ontario COVID-19 modelling coming Thursday

Ontario Premier Doug Ford teased that the province will reveal new COVID-19 modelling data tomorrow. He said the province is “going in the right direction” and COVID-19 spread is trending “downwards.”

“It’s put me in a good mood today,” Ford said. “People are listening.”

The premier also recognized that people are getting frustrated and fatigued with pandemic-related restrictions but stressed that “we will get through this.”

When asked about Christmas, Ford said guidance around the holiday will come as we get closer to the date but urged everyone in the province to “work together” to “make Christmas happen.”

The premier also stressed that he’s continuing to work with municipal authorities to loosen restrictions in areas currently under modified Stage 2 restrictions, including reopening gyms and indoor dining at restaurants.

“No one want to get these restaurants opened up, these fitness centres and other places, more than I do,” Ford said.

This came after the province announced it is providing up to $1.05 billion, combined with funding from the federal government, through the new COVID-19 Resilience infrastructure stream to build or renovate health and safety projects in long-term care, the education sector and municipalities.

“Getting shovels in the ground on new infrastructure projects across the province will be a critical component of our path to long-term economic recovery," Ford said in a statement. “Not only will this investment help communities build the necessary infrastructure to keep Ontarians safe and healthy, but these projects will create hundreds of local construction jobs and support local businesses and suppliers.”

“It's a win-win for the home team.”

‘Our economy will only be able to recover fully once we have defeated the virus’

In an address via videoconference at the Toronto Global Forum, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, spoke about the long-lasting economic recovery that’s needed in Canada.

She commented on the cost of Canada asking workers to stay home, and limiting social and economic activity.

“Now, if you were to play the penny-pinching devil’s advocate, you might argue that these economic restrictions need not, necessarily, weigh on the federal purse,” Freeland said. “The pandemic burden could, some might contend, be borne chiefly by the individuals directly affected. That would be, I suppose, a rugged boot-strapper’s solution.

“But that notion dissolves upon contact with real life... It is just not practically possible, never mind fair, to ask workers to stay home, or businesses to shut their doors, without providing the financial support they need to compensate for lost income.”

She said the “economically smart thing to do” is to continue to provide financial support for Canadians while recognizing that “our economy will only be able to recover fully once we have defeated the virus.”

Freeland added that Canada has to ensure businesses do not shut down permanently in the winter, while acknowledging that “some ‎damage is inevitable.”

“Targeted, carefully thought-out investment – on a meaningful scale – is how we will climb out of the coronavirus recession most quickly, and most effectively,” she said.

‘No one is protected until everyone is protected’

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, presented Canada’s annual report on the state of public health in the country, which outlines the “heavy toll” COVID-19 has had on Canada’s health-care system and how it has put a “spotlight” on the inequities in society.

“There are people that have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic,” Dr. Tam said at a press conference on Wednesday. “The virus didn’t create new inequities in our society, it exposed them and underscored the impact of our social policies on our health status.”

“No one is protected until everyone is protected.”

She stressed that the impact of COVID-19 in Canada has “worsened” the systems that “stigmatize populations through racism, ageism, sexism and others who have been marginalized through structural or social factors.”

Canada’s chief public health officer said reports globally show the differences in people who get COVID-19 and the severity of their illness is connected to health and social inequalities, which is also linked to factors like income, the type of work people do, how many people they live with and if individuals are dependant on others in their day-to-day life.

Some of the other points in the report include:

  • Residents in long-term care facilities account for about 80 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths, one of the highest fatality rates among other OECD countries;

  • Essential workers experience a higher risk of exposure in their work environment and while commuting to and from work;

  • COVID-19 has a “major impact” on workers with the least bargaining power including non-union, low-wage, female or hourly paid workers;

  • Confined living conditions can create circumstances where physical distancing, good hygiene and sanitary standards are difficult to maintain and the virus can be more easily spread;

  • Health-care workers accounted for 19 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada by mid-August;

  • Data collected in Toronto from mid-May to mid-July revealed that racialized populations made up more than 80 per cent of cases, which included people who are Arab, Middle Eastern or West Asian, Black, Latin American, South Asian, Indo-Caribbean and Southeast Asian;

  • First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples have “shown leadership, resilience and community collaboration” in their response to COVID-19 resulting lower rates of hospitalization and deaths;

  • Opioid-related overdose deaths have increased significantly during the pandemic after Canada was able to achieve a 13 per cent decrease from 2018 to 2019.

Dr. Tam does see the COVID-19 pandemic as a “catalyst” for collaboration between health, social and economic sectors, as well as efforts across all levels of government, in order to create “structural change” to ensure a “sustained approach” to changes in Canadian society. This includes investment in population and public health research that links across social science and behavioural science to have evidence-based communication.

An example she gave is that support for housing is a “really important” determinant of health, with more people likely to thrive and address health conditions if they have housing security. The same can be said for more supports related to violence against women, shelters, food security, childcare, low-income earners and people with precarious work.

“When we do pandemic planning going forward, it can’t just be health and public health trying to make it known that all other departments and different sectors, and different aspects of society, need to be part of the response,” Dr. Tam said. “We need to...build it in explicitly so that future pandemics and health crises have those other supports that come into play immediately.”

She added that “social cohesion” is important to ensure the public continues to observe the public health measures. This includes public leaders, media, policy makers and civil society organizations demonstrating they are “working together” to share information towards the goal of “getting through this crisis.”

Manitoba’s healthcare system continues to be ‘stretched’

Lanette Siragusa, Manitoba’s health system integration and quality lead, and chief nursing officer for Shared Health, revealed the province’s healthcare capacity continues to be “further stretched” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She revealed that ICU occupancy has now reached 92 per cent. There have also been 43 recently cancelled surgeries, some due to staff having to isolate and others in relation to changes made to “protect [staff] in using PPE.”

“We do continue to have beds and equipment and supplies, but our most precious resource right now is our staff,” Siragusa said. “We are seeing, however, that as cases increase in the community they are also increasing among healthcare workers.”

“While the vast majority of our positive healthcare worker cases were contracted outside of work and not in the workplace, there are unavoidable HR challenge that result.”

Since March, there have been 218 positive COVID-19 cases involving staff. At the moment, there are 37 healthcare staff cases in Manitoba, including 32 working in Winnipeg facilities.

Across Winnipeg over the past two week, more than 91,000 hours, or 5.81 per cent, of all hours worked were claimed as sick time by staff within the healthcare system. The five-year average for the same time period is 78,000 hours.

New online COVID-19 test book system in Nova Scotia

People in Nova Scotia are now able to book COVID-19 tests online for appointments at primary assessment centres in the Central Zone (Halifax Regional Municipality, Eastern Shore and West Hants) or at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

When Nova Scoatians in these areas complete the online self-assessment and require a test, they will be directed to the online booking site to schedule an appointment. If more than one person in a household has COVID-19 symptoms, they need to go through the process separately.

Tests can only be booked online if the online self-assessment is completed and should be scheduled within 48 hours of completing the assessment.

CASES AND OUTBREAKS

Ontario continues to see cases over 800

Ontario reported 834 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 299 cases in Toronto, 186 in Peel, 121 in York Region and 76 in Ottawa.

The province reported five more COVID-19 deaths, brining the total to 3,108 in Ontario.

There were 30,010 tests completed in the last day with 33,906 tests currently under investigation.

Ontario hospitals have 312 patients with COVID-19, including 71 in ICU.

Currently, 87 long-term care homes have active COVID-19 outbreaks with 396 resident cases and 297 staff cases.

The province also reported 92 new school-related COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 40 students cases, 13 staff cases and 39 that have not been identified.

New COVID-19 cases remain over 900 in Quebec

Quebec confirmed 929 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 254 cases in Montreal, 146 in Montérégie and 101 in Lanaudière.

The province confirmed 17 COVID-19 deaths, including four that occurred in the last 24 hours.

There are currently 526 people in Quebec hospitals, including 89 in intensive care.

Check out our COVID-19 in Canada topic page for latest news, tips, health updates, cases and more.