"Optimism" is not a sentiment that has been expressed often in discussions of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But that encouraging word was heard from Canada’s top medical official in the most recent assessment of how this country is navigating the pandemic’s delta-variant-driven fourth wave.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said last Friday the restrictive measures recently adopted to stem the current spread — particularly in hard-hit Alberta and Saskatchewan, where caseloads have surged amid lagging vaccination rates — appear to be having the intended effect.
Last week’s report from the Public Health Agency of Canada showed more than 3,700 new daily cases of COVID-19 being reported across Canada — a considerable number, but substantially less than the 8,500 the country was projected to hit by mid-September. Dr. Tam said "the curve is just bending" in a favourable direction, and noted that caseloads in most regions have levelled off since heightened public-health measures were introduced in August and September.
Across Canada, the COVID-19 effective reproduction number (Rt) fell below 1.0 for the first time since mid-July. According to Dr. Tam, keeping that figure consistently below 1.0 will be a key indicator the epidemic is being brought under control.
"The efforts we’ve made give us reason for optimism," Dr. Tam offered. Of course, as is the case with almost anything pandemic-related that might be construed as good news, the public health officer’s observation was followed by an immediately articulated "but ..."
"... we must remain mindful of the need for continued caution in the months ahead," she continued.
And it’s on Dr. Tam’s cautionary addendum, rather than the earlier-voiced optimism, that Manitobans’ attention should be focused. This province has tended to lag behind national trends from the pandemic’s outset, so it’s safe to assume the brighter outcomes being described in the national update have yet to be fully realized here and are anything but a foregone conclusion.
Despite generally favourable numbers across the province — particularly in its most populous centre, where vaccination uptake is high even among the younger population — Manitoba is still home to one of the nation’s most notoriously vaccine- and health-order-resistant areas. So concerning is the situation in the Southern Health region that the province this week imposed yet another level of restrictions and conditions on its largely unvaccinated population.
Maintaining and enforcing those public-health orders will be crucial to Manitoba’s successful endurance of the fourth wave.
While we wait to see what impact the Thanksgiving’s inevitable gatherings of families and friends will have on caseload reports, there are reasons to believe Dr. Tam’s optimism is well founded. Crowds — of the sort required to produce proof of vaccination before assembling — have witnessed the cautious resumption of live entertainment events, with (so far, at least) no apparent associated COVID-19 consequences.
While we wait to see what impact the Thanksgiving’s inevitable gatherings of families and friends will have on caseload reports, there are reasons to believe Dr. Tam’s optimism is well founded.
Restaurants and patios, also requiring vaccination documentation, have enjoyed a late-summer rush that no doubt left both proprietors and clientele feeling as if "normal" might be foreseeably possible.
Of course, there’s another "but": as Dr. Tam was quick to warn, vigilance and the resolve to maintain restrictions in the face of public pressure are necessarily elements in the continuing fourth-wave fight. "You still cannot rely on the vaccinations alone at this point," she said.
As optimism goes, that’s about as cautious, measured and tempered as it gets. But it’s still a welcome respite from the doomsaying and desperation that were precipitated by Manitoba’s mishandling of the previous two waves.