Don’t call it a second wave, but COVID-19 cases are starting to creep back up in Western Canada.
The increase — particularly cases among young people — is setting off alarm bells for health officials there.
Alberta saw 86 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the most cases in a single day in over two months, and 82 new cases Wednesday. And B.C. and Saskatchewan have both seen uncomfortably larger than usual case rates in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Alberta chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said she was worried people have grown complacent.
“This pandemic has been a long haul. And I worry that Albertans may be starting to tune the messages out. It can seem like old news, and many are tired of hearing this information,” she said. “We are concerned about the recent rise in cases we are seeing, also of concern is the younger age of people infected with the virus.”
More than half of all COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta in the past two weeks are people under the age of 40, and 30 per cent of the total new cases haven’t been linked to existing cases.
Viral images from Sylvan Lake, a popular summer destination in the province showed throngs of people crowded together and not following social distancing guidelines.
Hinshaw said the recent uptick in cases is a reminder that even though the province has been in various reopening phases since mid-May, people must remain vigilant by adhering to social distancing, washing their hands and wearing masks when necessary.
“This is a reminder that COVID-19 can spread quickly and cases can rise rapidly if we don’t all do our part,” she said.
B.C. also seeing rise
B.C. is also seeing an uptick in cases. The province averaged around 20 new cases a day for the past week — rates that haven’t been seen since early May.
“We’ve had more than we’re used to seeing in the last few days. This is not unexpected,” B.C. chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledged in her daily briefing Tuesday.
But she admitted a recent day with over 25 cases was “way above” her comfort zone.
To date, 17 new cases in the past week have been linked to a single outbreak in Kelowna following a social gathering of people from B.C. and Alberta.
The gathering of people in their 20s and 30s at two Kelowna resorts has prompted widespread warnings of potential exposure to the virus in restaurants and bars over a 12-day period, as well as an Air Canada flight from Kelowna to Vancouver.
Henry warned this means people cannot be complacent, and added that people need to recommit to socializing with only a small number of people in larger spaces — preferably outside.
She said B.C. residents can get “out there and be active, but we need you to do that safely.”
“I don’t believe it’s good to shut things down because it just drives things underground,” she said.
“It’s much better for us to work with industry, to work with residents, to work with people and say, ‘How can we do this in the best possible way, in the safest possible way?’”
And while the Kelowna outbreak has attracted the most media attention, Henry was quick to point out that B.C. is not seeing the particular spike in cases in younger people that Alberta is.
“I don’t believe it’s good to shut things down because it just drives things underground.”
“We haven’t seen that bulge that we’re seeing in the U.S. and other parts of Canada in the 20s and 30s age group,” she said.
Saskatchewan increase linked to communal living
Cases are on the rise in Saskatchewan as well.
The province reported nearly 60 new COVID-19 cases over the past three days, and they’re largely linked to Hutterite colonies. There were 54 new cases between Sunday and Monday — the largest two-day total since May 4 and 5. Another five cases were announced on Tuesday.
Health officials are blaming the communities’ communal living and set-up and relative inaccessibility of testing facilities.
“If you have a communal living setting, there are challenges because the way of life is that you pray together and eat together,” chief medical officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said. “It takes some organization to sort that out.”
But Shahab said the province is working with the Hutterite council to address the situation.