Chief public health officer warns of pandemic 'fatigue' as COVID cases surge among young people

Canada's chief public health officer is calling on Canadians to resist giving in to pandemic fatigue as novel coronavirus cases among young people surge across the country.

People under the age of 39 account for over 60 per cent of new cases reported this week, Dr. Theresa Tam says

People sit on a cement block as they wait for a table at a bar's outdoor patio in the Byward Market in Ottawa, on Sunday, July 12, 2020. Data shows young people are contracting the coronavirus at higher rates than earlier on during the pandemic. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Canada's chief public health officer is calling on Canadians to resist giving in to pandemic fatigue as novel coronavirus cases among young people surge across the country.

Dr. Theresa Tam, attending her first press conference since returning from a summer break, said the seven-day average number of new daily cases is rising again after falling earlier this summer.

Tam reinforced a message delivered last week by her deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo — that young people need to continue following public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"The upward trend in daily case counts is worrisome," Tam said Friday in Ottawa. "We know that we have the means to keep COVID-19 under control, but this is by no means a sure thing. It is going to take all Canadians doing their part and working together, with public health, to keep the curve down."

Tam said the peak of new daily cases arrived in early May, when the average daily case count was 1,800. That number fell to 273 in early July but has crept back up to 487 in the last seven days.

People under the age of 39 are driving the surge, Tam said. They account for 60 per cent of new cases reported this week, with over a third ending up in hospital.

"I must urge all Canadians, particularly younger adults, to not give in to COVID-19 fatigue," she said. "Younger age groups are not invincible against COVID-19."

Tam said new research indicates that less than one per cent of Canadians have been infected with COVID-19, leaving most of the population without antibodies and therefore vulnerable to becoming infected.

She urged young people to think about their older relatives and friends who could become sick as a result of their actions.

"If we let our guard down, the disease will work its way to our parents and grandparents and other vulnerable people who need to be protected," she said.

WATCH: Bars, restaurants, social gatherings 'clearly' play part in uptick of coronavirus among those under 40, infectious disease expert says

Infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch says indoor spaces like bars and restaurants are contributing to the uptick in coronavirus cases among younger people, but shutting them down may not be the answer. 3:04

Avoid crowding, close contact and contained spaces: health minister

Health Minister Patty Hajdu urged Canadians to avoid what she called the "three C's": close contact, crowded places and contained spaces.

She said the federal government launched an online tool today to help Canadians evaluate the risks of various activities and behaviours, which will be integrated with the COVID-19 tracing app now in the beta testing phase

"The fact that we've got more opportunity to do things in our lives right now is creating confusion and people are unsure about whether or not the activity they're considering poses a greater risk or not," Hajdu said in an interview with CBC Radio's The House airing Saturday.

Hajdu said public health officials are working to craft messaging that does a better job of targeting young people.

"One of the challenges that governments have sometimes is their marketing ... doesn't necessarily come out very quickly or in a language that appeals to the target audience," Hajdu said. "We've been really investing to try and change that and have more nimble, more appropriate conversations with segmented parts of Canadian society."

Canada’s health minister discusses the rising number of cases of COVID-19 in areas across the country, many of them attributed to younger Canadians. 13:19

With files from CBC Radio's The House and the Canadian Press

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