Toronto: Canada’s chief public health officer said Friday that the country could face a fourth wave of COVID-19, driven by the delta variant, by the end of summer if restrictions are eased too quickly and before enough people have been vaccinated.
Dr Theresa Tam said robust vaccination rates have helped reduced hospitalizations and deaths but inoculations must rise further to avoid renewed strain on hospitals and the health-care system.
She urged younger adults to become fully vaccinated as soon as possible, saying they continue to lag among age groups but are associated with the highest rates of disease transmission.
About 6.3 million Canadians have not received a first dose and over 5 million have not had a second, Tam told a news briefing.
“With just over five weeks until Labor Day in Canada, this time is crucial for building up protection before we gather in schools, colleges, university and workplaces this fall,” she said.
As of last Saturday, 89 per cent of seniors aged 70 or older had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to government figures. But only 46 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 29 were fully vaccinated, as were 54 per cent of those aged 30 to 39.
Tam said vaccine coverage must be more than 80 per cent in all age groups to establish better protection.
The more infectious delta variant is expected to gain steam among younger unvaccinated people, fueling a resurgence that could overwhelm health care capacity if personal contacts also rise, she said.
Current COVID-19 case counts have plummeted by 93 per cent since the peak of the third wave, for an average of 640 new infections being reported daily over the past seven days, Tam said.
Deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo said Canada’s robust vaccination rate means any uptick in infections would likely not correspond to a marked rise in deaths and hospitalizations.
He warned that millions of unvaccinated Canadians ‘are really at risk of serious outcomes.
Meanwhile, Florida’s coronavirus cases jumped 50 per cent this week, the state Health Department reported Friday, continuing a six-week surge that has seen it responsible for 1 in 5 new infections nationally, becoming the outbreak’s epicenter.
The release came shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis barred school districts from requiring students to wear masks when classes resume next month, saying there is no evidence they prevent outbreaks among students or staff. More than 110,000 new coronavirus cases were reported statewide over the past week, up from 73,000 last week and 11 times the 10,000 reported the week of June 11, six weeks ago. Case numbers are now back to where they in January, just before vaccinations became widely available.
The Florida Hospital Association also said Friday that statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations are nearing last year’s peak. More than 9,300 patients are hospitalized, up from 1,845 a month ago and nearing the record 10,179 set on July 23, 2020. On a per capita basis, Florida now has more people hospitalized than any other state.
The state reported 409 deaths this week, bringing the total to more than 39,000 since its first in March 2020. The state’s peak happened in mid-August 2020, when 1,266 people died over a seven-day period. Deaths usually follow increases in hospitalizations by a few weeks. DeSantis has blamed the surge on a seasonal increase — more Floridians are indoors because of the hot weather with air conditioning circulating the virus.
About 60 per cent of Floridians 12 and older are vaccinated, ranking it about midway among the states. DeSantis said barring mask mandates at schools will improve students’ experience and make it easier for them to focus on learning.