OTTAWA — New outbreaks of COVID-19 among young adults across the country are sparking concern about the impact these clusters of new cases could have on the ongoing easing of pandemic restrictions.
Ontario is reporting its largest daily number of confirmed COVID-19 infections since the end of June with 203 new cases Tuesday, prompting Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott to urge citizens to follow physical distancing rules to stop the concerning trend.
Alberta and British Columbia have also seen surges in new COVID-19 infections over the last two days. Manitoba has seen an outbreak on a few Hutterite colonies in recent days and a couple of positive tests among international travellers.
Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, said the uptick in new cases nationally is giving public health authorities cause for concern.
Canada’s daily new case numbers had slowed to an average of about 300 new cases a day, but this has increased to an average of 460 new cases per day for the last four days.
The majority of the newly infected are young adults, many of whom have contracted the novel coronavirus by going to bars, restaurants and attending indoor parties, Njoo told reporters Tuesday at a briefing in Ottawa.
“I think everyone’s been tired after spending the winter cooped up,” he said.
“And now with the nicer weather and the summer I think people just want to get out, so I think there is a fatigue factor in terms of trying to maintain all of those good public health measures.”
Njoo said he believes there is an “invincibility factor” also playing into the outbreaks among young people, which is being fanned by scientific evidence emerging that shows youth who contract COVID-19 are less likely to become seriously ill.
“I think at a certain age you think you can get away with anything … That’s where I think the challenge is, because even if they have only mild symptoms or they are asymptomatic, the fact is they’re part of our society.”
Njoo suggested some young people attending indoor parties and not following proper physical distancing measures might be doing so because the ongoing relaxing of pandemic restrictions — including the reopening of bars and restaurants — has sent a signal that they can let their guard down.
But it’s up to local authorities to decide whether these establishments should be allowed to remain open, Njoo said.
“Moving forward we also recognize we need to at some point reopen our society. The tricky part, really, is trying to find that balance as we slowly as a society figure out how we move forward with the appropriate amount of caution in terms of various sectors.”
New daily case numbers greater than 100 have become the norm in Alberta in recent days. The province reported 141 new cases on Tuesday. There are now 1,193 active cases of the virus in Alberta.
“If you think you can socialize with large groups of people in close quarters, knock it off,” Premier Jason Kenney said at a press conference. “If you are young and healthy, remember you could still carry and transmit the virus that ends up killing someone who is old or vulnerable.”
Even with the higher numbers, Alberta announced plans to open schools in September.
“I want to stress that there is no risk-free approach to living with COVID-19, yet we still have to learn to live with it,” said Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw. ”There are no easy choices in front of us.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was especially concerned by data showing 57 per cent of Tuesday’s cases in his province were in people aged 39 or younger and that some of the outbreaks have been linked to people attending indoor parties.
“I just ask people to hold off on these parties, I don’t know why everyone wants to party so bad but — enough. We have to keep this in control and we will.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2020.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the surname of Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.