The Current

Canada could avoid full lockdown in fall by targeting outbreaks and not taking 'our foot off the pedal': Tam

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says Canadians must play a role in "minimizing the number of contacts and exposures, should a case occur."

Public must play role in 'minimizing exposures, should a case occur': Dr. Theresa Tam

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says Canadians needs to make a 'concerted effort' to keep COVID-19 'at a manageable level that doesn't overwhelm public health.' (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

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As parts of Canada deal with an uptick in COVID-19 cases, the country's chief public health officer says any future pandemic restrictions may be more nuanced than the full lockdown in spring. 

"You can't blanket certain businesses in one broad stroke," Dr. Theresa Tam told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"So what provinces and local public health are trying to do is say: 'Well, what is the data showing in my community?'" she explained. 

"Is it driven by food and drinks establishments? Is it driven by nightclubs? Is it driven by certain other settings?"

Canada could be in for a major fall spike in COVID-19 cases if testing, contact tracing, and personal protection measures don't strengthen with schools and businesses reopening, according to new modelling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada. 1:45

Last week, B.C. announced new restrictions after the province reported 429 new cases of COVID-19 over a four-day period. Nightclubs and banquet halls were ordered closed, while bars and restaurants now cannot serve alcohol after 10 p.m., and must close at 11 p.m. unless serving food.

Tam said both businesses and health officials in B.C. have tried to manage a safe reopening, "but they're still seeing outbreaks, and public health is having to chase down lots and lots of contacts." 

The data of where these outbreaks are occurring and who is being exposed is now being used "to drive the targeted response" in the province, she said.

It's about "keeping businesses open, but in a different way — no restaurant looks the same anymore in terms of how they manage things."

Infectious disease epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite agreed there won't be a "sudden and expansive shutting down of everything across a province."

"I think we'll see something that's a bit more nuanced," said Tuite, who is also a math modeller at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

"If we have hotspots across the province, we may see those restrictions introduced in specific areas," she told Galloway.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes questions from the media before he begins meeting with his cabinet. 2:17

Remain vigilant, urges Trudeau

In addition to the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in B.C., Ontario reported 313 new cases on Monday, after three consecutive days where the daily count exceeded 200 — something that has not happened since early June. The average number of daily infections in the province has doubled over the past three weeks. Quebec also saw its highest number of new cases since the beginning of June over the weekend, with 244 cases reported Saturday and 279 cases on Sunday.

Speaking Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to continue to adhere to public health guidelines.

"The last thing anyone wants is to go into this fall in a lockdown similar to this spring, and the way we do that is by remaining vigilant," he said.

Tam said the case numbers are still manageable for public health officials tasked with "trying to rapidly test, trace, isolate, quarantine."

"But that job is actually quite laborious and difficult if the public isn't also playing its role in minimizing the number of contacts and exposures, should a case occur."

A mural of Tam, centre, and B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in Vancouver in May. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

She said it's important to note that recent outbreaks have not been driven by reopened businesses.

"It's actually private social gatherings and community indoor events, whether they be the banquet halls, or perhaps bigger weddings," she said.

Tuite said people will "have to plan with the expectation that your plans may go out the window."

"The reality is that if you're planning a wedding in a month, you're not going to have a wedding with a hundred people, probably," she said. 

"Is there a way that you can continue with that celebration in a way that acknowledges that you may need to change, you may need to be innovative."

Tam said that with a "concerted effort" of following guidelines and reducing unnecessary exposure, Canadians can keep COVID-19 "at a manageable level that doesn't overwhelm public health." 

"We can do it, we've done it before … but we've got to not let our foot off the pedal."

What kind of pandemic restrictions can we expect in the months ahead, and what might the impact be on an already weary population? Infectious disease epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite and professor of psychiatry Steven Taylor discuss. 14:26

Proactive approach will stop larger lockdown: Tuite

Tuite said health officials will need to take a proactive approach in introducing restrictions as soon as it's apparent they're needed, even if they're hesitant "to put people through the pain of having these restrictions put back in place." 

"When you start seeing your hospitals filling up, that suggests that it's time to act, or it's a little bit too late," she told Galloway.

"The goal here is to keep community transmission low and to keep cases at a level where we don't have to have these massive shutdowns," she said.

"If you do that and you act proactively, you're going to prevent more restrictions and larger shutdowns."

Six months into a global pandemic, stress and anxiety take their toll. Through the eyes of three women, we examine the mood of the country and how to be resilient in such a trying time. 6:29

Steven Taylor, a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, said that a targeted approach could make another round of restrictions "a lot easier as compared to the first wave of lockdown." 

"Most people are resilient, so there will be a grumbling acceptance as people go into the next wave of restrictions," he said.

However, Taylor said it would be "distressing for a number of people," particularly as "we get into the gloom of winter."

"I think that although it's great that we're finding ways of reducing the spread of infection, we also should be very careful to make sure we have resources for monitoring and tending to people's mental health."

Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam responds to reporter questions about the search for a vaccine for COVID-19. 2:08

Living with risk

Taylor said one way to prepare for new restrictions is to reflect on how you managed lockdown in the initial months.

He said he'll be trying to exercise more, work less, and connect with friends and family — but also remember the things that did help him in spring.

"That is setting a structure, reminding myself: 'Yeah, this is going to be over,' and that wearing a mask and socially distancing are the best things that we can do to help get over this pandemic."

Tuite told Galloway that while people need the best advice to protect themselves from infection, they also need to realize there is a "spectrum" to the risk.

"Risk is not black and white — there's not 'no risk' versus 'something that is risky,'" she said.

There are ways to minimize risk and still do the activities important to people, which also don't "result in us being paralyzed, and staying at home and not doing anything and not seeing anyone."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler, Ines Colabrese and Alison Masemann.

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