OTTAWA – Daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases in Canada have been on a slow trend upward as students return to schools.
Epidemiologists say the increase isn’t the second wave we’ve been dreading—but it could turn into the second wave if we’re not careful.
“This is concerning and I want to underscore that we cases occur, including in schools, it’s a reflection of what’s happening in the community,” said Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam.
Most schools across Canada are back in session now, and there’s been several schools shut down and students sent home due to local outbreaks.
“This week I think it a really critical week—and next week. We’ll have some idea of what happens when you go back to school. So the next couple of weeks is two weeks of careful vigilance.”
Raywat Deonandan is an epidemiologist and says the rise in cases isn’t a great sign, but it’s not the explosive spike that we’d see if it was the second wave.
“We have a few things going on simultaneously: we have a rise in numbers, we have colder weather, we have the cold and flu season starting, and we have schools opening up. We’ve got a lot going on,” said Deonandan.
He says students going back to school represent another risk, but he notes that there isn’t really a precedent for safely reopening schools in a pandemic.
“Harvard has some metric for establishing if a school is opening safely. This includes an incident rate of no more than 25 cases per 100,000 people,” he said.
He says the Canadian average is below that threshold, but some Canadian cities are well above that cap, including Calgary, Chestermere, Edmonton, Brandon, and the Vancouver area. There’s a handful of other Canadian cities approaching that 25-case cut-off.
“If we meet or exceed that threshold then that’s the time for worry. That’s the time when we need to consider if our growth rate is explosive or not.”
Deonandan says there are four key goals in reopening schools: stopping COVID-19 transmission in the community, stop community cases from getting into schools, stopping in-school spread, and finally stopping the infected schools from reinfecting the community.
Schools in the U.S. began to open last month and while Canada and the states have taken very different approaches to managing the pandemic, Deonandan says there’s still a lot that Canada can learn.
“(The U.S.) has not been particularly strong across the board. They have failed at every level of that opening process. We can learn a lot, especially on that first one—keeping it out of the community. That way it can’t get into schools.”
While we’re already seeing some new on school infections and shutdowns, Deonandan says there’s a lag of bout two weeks before a good amount of data comes out and before we’ll be able to see how successful the reopening process has been.