Canada is emerging from months of lockdown, but key questions remain unanswered about where Canadians are getting infected with COVID-19 and why case levels remain high in the hardest-hit provinces.
Ontario and Quebec have seen their rate of new cases plateau in recent weeks, still in the hundreds each day, and have little information on the source of infection or what effect reopening will have.
“It’s scary. There’s a large sense of unknown there,” said Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, who is a veteran of SARS and H1N1. “And there’s no way around the fact that this is uncomfortable.”
In Ontario, where the number of new daily cases is actually trending upward, testing is falling far below targets and the source of infection for new cases still remains a mystery. Even local health officials have concerns about lifting lockdown measures.
Dr. Lawrence Loh, the Medical Officer of Health for Peel Region, west of Toronto, said this week the province’s move to reopen was “out of step” with the “continuing risk” of the corona virus pandemic, and recommended delaying easing restrictions.
“We have seen our new cases starting to plateau, but we have just not seen a decline in line with the province’s own framework for reopening at this point,” he said, adding the region had 20 per cent of all new COVID-19 cases in Ontario last week.
He notes the recent new case levels in the province — between 300 and 500 each day — mirror the levels in the early days of lockdown.
That concern was echoed by Dr. Chris Mackie, the Medical Officer of Health and CEO for the Middlesex London Health Unit in London, Ont., who said the region, may need to “reconsider” reopening after case counts rose this week.
“We should not be seeing these sorts of numbers at this stage,” he said, adding the local increase, as well as the provincial one, is higher than it should be.
“If this continues on for the next few days, we might have to reconsider some of the loosening of public health measures.”
The Ontario Ministry of Health could not provide a clear picture of where exactly people are getting infected in the province.
“This is ongoing work,” a spokesperson said in a statement, and said the issue was being examined by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.
“Dr. Williams has asked the local public health units to collect more specific information from new cases about the possible sources of transmission.”
Experts say lifting lockdown measures without a clear picture of where new cases are coming from, and while testing is not at capacity, is cause for concern.