The other numbers behind Canada’s 10,000 pandemic deaths

October 28, 2020
The other numbers behind Canada's 10,000 pandemic deaths

Canada hit another milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, when the death toll reached 10,000 people.

That number may be inaccurate, though, and the true number could be higher. Statistics Canada has said the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic might have been under-reported. That’s because some patients might have died before getting tested for the coronavirus.

The numbers vary greatly between regions. Most of the deaths — more than 90 per cent — have been reported in Quebec (6,172 deaths) and Ontario (3,103). Those provinces also account for 80 per cent of Canada’s overall cases.

More than 70 per cent of Canada’s deaths have occurred in those aged over 80 — about twice the average of rates in other developed countries. Both Ontario and Quebec experienced severe COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes which drove those numbers up.

There are currently more than 320 outbreaks in such homes across Canada.

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first death was reported.

COVID-19 case counts slowed across the country through the summer, but have taken a big jump in many areas this fall, with new daily highs regularly being set through Central and Western Canada.

The death toll has also climbed much more slowly since April and May, when outbreaks in long-term care homes and a lack of medical knowledge about the coronavirus led to more fatal infections.

Growing more deadly

However, the pandemic has grown deadlier over the past month. More than 600 COVID-19-related fatalities have been reported in October so far compared with 165 COVID-19 in September, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Equally troubling, the number of people experiencing severe COVID-19 illness continues to increase.

According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, data from the provinces and territories shows that an average of 1,010 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day period (Oct. 16-22), including 209 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 23 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.

Tam also warned in her statement Monday that “as hospitalisations and deaths tend to lag behind increased disease activity by one to several weeks, the concern is that we have yet to see the extent of severe impacts associated with the ongoing increase in COVID-19 disease activity.”

WATCH | What doctors have learned about treating COVID-19:

One of many lessons learned treating patients this spring includes finding alternatives to early intubation. 1:21

Doctors have learned how to better prevent COVID-19 from spreading — through masks, distancing, hand hygiene and avoiding crowds — and have found better ways to treat it in hospital, for example, by not putting people on ventilators too soon, or by using steroid treatments like dexamethasone. 

Overall, deaths and hospitalizations in Canada are not as bad as some experts had predicted they would be by this point, and they are not necessarily in line with the rate of new cases seen early in the pandemic. It’s not entirely clear why that is.

According to the Coronavirus Resource Centre at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., Canada’s COVID-19 case fatality rate is about 4.5 per cent, with about 27 deaths per 100,000 residents.

LISTEN | What have we learned about COVID-19 to keep my elderly loved one safe in long-term care this time around?

The Dose23:15What have we learned about COVID-19 to keep my elderly loved one safe in long-term care this time around?

Although the majority of people recently infected with COVID-19 have been younger adults, the virus has already made its way back into long-term care and retirement homes, with about 100 active outbreaks and counting across Canada. Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network in Toronto, returns to The Dose with guidance on how we can use what we’ve learned about COVID-19 to keep our elderly loved ones safe while cases continue to rise outside the walls of long-term care homes. 23:15

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