Vaxx Populi: If the worsening situation in Europe portends what is to come, brace yourself, Canada
Dr. Malgorzata Gasperowicz has a routine when getting into a taxi: she makes sure the driver is wearing a mask, rolls down the windows, then frequently talks to the driver about the risks of COVID-19 airborne transmission, and then gives a KN95 Mask, because most drivers are unaware of the airborne disease risks, he says. It’s one of the ways it helps spread the word that the dangers inherent in this pandemic are not over, especially as temperatures drop and cases rise.
Gasperowicz has been modeling the pandemic from her inception, using the skills she developed as a developmental biologist at the University of Calgary to trace the possible and probable trajectories of wave after wave of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. And right now, you are concerned about what you see in the data. When asked to rate the probability of a fifth wave hitting Canada this winter, he pauses and then says it’s seven or eight out of 10, depending on how governments react to changing circumstances on the ground.
“We are in a very risky state,” he says.. “It all depends on what our politicians do,” as they set the policies for their jurisdictions. It is significant that most provinces have relaxed public health measures in recent months. For example, just before Thanksgiving, the Ontario government raised all capacity limits in arenas, gyms and theaters.
MORE: The Roadblock to Full Recovery from the Pandemic: ‘Pockets’ of Unvaccinated Canadians
In particular, Gasperowicz is concerned that the worsening situation in Europe may herald what is to come here. There, many countries relaxed public health measures as vaccination rates increased earlier in the year. Now, they are experiencing huge waves of cases. For example, in Portugal, daily case counts now average 227 cases per million inhabitants, compared to 73 a month earlier, despite have 88 percent of its entire population double vaxxed, compared to 76 percent in Canada. Germany’s rate is 633 new cases per million inhabitants, more than four times the rate of the previous month. There, hospital admissions are increasing and ICU at COVID access points are in capacity (the country the vaccination rate is 67%). In some nations, restrictions are being reintroduced, including in Germany, where outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel called the situation “Very dramatic.”
It’s been a while since people tapped into pandemic data every day to see if things were getting better or worse. So, as the holidays approach, these are the indicators that Gasperowicz suggests to watch:
Daily case countLook at the seven-day averages for trends. Right now, the overall national average, which recently bottomed out at 2,241 per day earlier in the month, now it is 2,561 per day, according to to COVID-19 Tracker Canada. And some provinces are rising even faster, including Ontario, which has nearly doubled its daily average in the past three weeks.
Effective Reproduction Number (Rt): Currently, Canada’s overall Rt value is above one, which means that each person infected with SARS-CoV-2 is infecting more than one person. That high transmission rate means that cases can spike at any time. (A good Rt it would be well below 1.0, ideally around 0.6, which would make it possible to stop community transmission in a given region within weeks). The provinces with Rt values that tend in the wrong direction are Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and New Brunswick. And the other provinces and territories are not doing much better as the virus spreads, especially indoors.
Test of positivity rates: A higher percentage of positive COVID-19 tests may indicate a greater spread of the virus in the community. At two hotspots in southwestern Ontario, the test positivity is more than 15 percent, according to ICES data, compared to a 2.6% provincial rate. In Alberta, where cases have declined since its fourth wave, test positivity has stopped declining and is now slowly rising to more than five percent.
In addition to reimposing public health measures, Canada has options to suppress a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases that were not widely used or unavailable last winter, says Gasperowicz.
Vaccines: Right now, unvaccinated children account for about half of all COVID-19 cases. The current launch of vaccines for those in the age group of 5 to 11 years should help reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19. Earlier this month, Health Canada authorized the Pfizer and Modern Vaccines as a third dose for all adults 18 years of age and older. The boosters, which will be given at least six months after the second dose, are now given to older people and people with compromised immune systems, but Gasperowicz and others I would like to dramatically expand the pool of adults entitled to booster shots, especially those in the highest-risk settings, such as frontline and essential workers, including teachers, retail staff, and healthcare workers. Already in the United States, the third vaccines are available to all adults.
Air transmission: During most of the pandemic, governments and the World Health Organization said that the virus spreads via droplets, leading to security protocols like Plexiglass Barriers and surface washing. Now a growing number of scientists say the evidence shows that the virus is transmitted through the air. On November 12, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Director of Public Health, came as close as any high profile Canadian official has even said that it is an airborne virus: “We have learned how the virus can remain in fine aerosols and remain suspended in the air we breathe, in the same way that the expelled smoke remains in poorly ventilated spaces. And similar to secondhand smoke, those who are very close to the infected person inhale more aerosols. ”
Gasperowicz believes that governments need to be more explicit about the dangers that are transmitted through the air, including that the virus can remain in a room even if no one is there or if the air is not circulating or purifying properly. For example, Great Britain has ads created on mitigating the risks of indoor meetings.
To address airborne risks, Gasperowicz wants HEPA air purifiers to be widely used and CO2 monitors to be displayed indicating the strength of an indoor ventilation system (the lower the CO2 level, the better. air quality). In Japan, CO2 levels in real time are now posted for every screening room in multiplex cinemas.
Quick tests: The tests, which have not been used much or are not available in Canada, should be as ubiquitous here as in Europe, where the test is free from governments or sold for a few dollars. In fact, one of Gasperowicz’s friends in Austria was in her first week teaching a class of 30 students when five tested positive on those rapid tests even though they had shown no symptoms.