COVID-19 Second Wave In Fall Won't Have Same Lockdowns As March: Doctor

"Before everything closes again" is the wrong approach to take.
As the seasons change, worries about a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic are growing.
As the seasons change, worries about a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic are growing.

Canada’s second wave of COVID-19 cases is inevitable, a fact that provinces like Quebec and public health officials are bracing for. Many Canadians are rightfully worried too; 84 per cent of Ontarians are afraid of the second wave, according to a Canadian Mental Health Association poll.

“Before everything shuts down/closes again” is a common phrase that’s likely been borne out of these fears, as many are making the most out of the dog days of summer to patronize as many re-opened businesses as they can.

Americans have gotten mileage out of the phrase too — those living in the country with the world’s highest pandemic death toll and infectious cases in the millions have used it while getting haircuts, attending piercing or tattoo appointments, eating out at restaurants, and enjoying the gym.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has also said that a “larger resurgence” is expected this fall.

“Right now is manageable, we can detect our cases, but this virus, as I’ve said, is in our backyards. So we can’t let our guards down,” Tam said, according to CTV.

But is cramming all of one’s summer fun and errands the right approach to take? We asked Dr. Sumontra Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician based in Mississauga, Ont., to weigh in on this pandemic concern. He noted that every Canadian should continue to practice social distancing, proper hand-washing protocol, and correct mask usage in order to prevent community spread.

“Obviously, we can’t get complacent,” he said.

Should parents be worried about back-to-school transmission?

Chakrabarti: I completely understand people’s trepidation about going back to school. We have to be vigilant about our public health measures, social distancing, and, you know, keeping track of what’s going on in the schools. But it’s important to note we are at a point in the outbreak where we have a low amount of community transmission; September’s cases will be way lower than those in March.

Canada’s situation is different from Georgia’s (more than 900 students and staff in the U.S. state are quarantining, after 59 people in a school district were infected, Global reported). They already had high community transmission.

Of course, that’s not going to allay everybody’s fear, right? Yeah. People have to make their own call based on risk tolerance. I would say that my kids are young right now, but if they were of age, I would send them to school at this current time.

Are you concerned the health-care system will be overwhelmed again?

Chakrabarti: There’s been outbreaks all over Canada, outbreaks in places like Brampton, [Ont.]. However, despite all this, the hospitalized cases have dropped to a minimal level in Ontario. There are only five COVID-19 patients on ventilators in the province. That’s a big thing.

The case numbers back in March and April weren’t accurate, as the testing capacity for cases was low. The people who were getting tested were only those sick enough to get tested. So there was probably more than the recorded [overall] case number, probably eight times more. Now, we’re at around 100 cases a day. So think about how different that is; the risk is a lot smaller.

Obviously, we have to be prepared. But if we do have a spike in hospitalizations, we are able now to accommodate.

How bad will a second wave be?

Chakrabarti: We’re going to have an increase in cases, but I don’t necessarily think that we’re going to have case explosions. A lot of people, they’re thinking what’s happening in the U.S. right now is what’s on the way. It’s very, very unlikely.

Our situation’s very different from the U.S., where they had weeks and weeks of unchecked spread.

We still have to be vigilant as schools re-open and case numbers rise. And especially in the winter months when we’re all huddled indoors. But the first wave will look a lot different than what’s ahead, where we have a low number of cases that may multiply slowly because of school.”

Does this mean there won’t be widespread shutdown?

Chakrabarti: It’s important to note that in March and April, people were returning from spring break. That time, all we could do was go full lockdown; it likely led to hundreds, maybe thousands of cases originating abroad. This large scale introduction of Canadian cases is unlikely at this current time given the U.S. border closure and limited international travel. We’ve been monitoring this virus so closely that if anything comes up, we’ll see it long before and can do focused restrictions, rather than complete shutdown.

What are your thoughts on the “Before everything shuts down/closes again” mentality?

Chakrabarti: I think that having everything close down like in March is unlikely. we expect to see outbreaks here and there going forward — whether it’s at school, gyms, bars. People have to remember this doesn’t necessarily mean explosive spread overnight. It takes weeks to get there. Stories about specific outbreaks are actually a good thing, as it shows that our system of detecting works and can snuff out problems quickly.

Should we be changing how often we go places, ahead of potential restrictions?

Chakrabarti: This is where it’s gonna be very important to look at things from a regional standpoint. I’m in Peel (Ont.) region; we’ve been having more cases compared to the rest of the province because of our circumstances. So here, you might see closures of contact-heavy things like gyms, restaurants, and bars.

But, just because that’s happening in Peel doesn’t mean it should affect [an Ontarian’s lifestyle] in somewhere like Thunder Bay, where they haven’t had an active case in weeks.

We probably will see the tightening of some public health recommendations in certain areas. There’ll likely be restrictions in zones, but not widespread closures like there were in March.

If people shouldn’t rush to go everywhere right now or panic about the second wave, does this also affect people’s love lives?

Chakrabarti: I mean ... I’m married, right? But the thing is, I remember exactly what it was like. You get lonely!

In terms of opening social bubbles, from my point of view, the provinces will likely hold off on that until we see what happens in schools.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, she’s the health officer from B.C., she’s had some nice advice for intimacy. People’s sex lives are their business, but we have to remember: Having a lot of partners in a short period of time can be a risk for both STDs and COVID-19.

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice for singles looking to mingle, from mid-May. Story continues below.

So, I think trying to reduce the number of partners, maybe having one, that you ... spend time with, you can still enjoy yourself. Going forward, you’ll want to continue to prevent mixing with people outside your bubble.”

Any other takeaways for Canadians?

Chakrabarti: We have to remember we are in a unique position. When you’re at this point with low community spread, you have leeway. We’re not even close to New York City. We have the ability to see the virus’ progression from far away and make regional adjustments.

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