Canada's new COVID-19 epicenters are more remote, less vaccinated and less resourced
Canada’s coronavirus epicenters are shifting from dense urban zones to more rural or remote areas that have lower vaccination rates and fewer public health resources, Reuters reports.
Some of those areas were spared in earlier waves of the pandemic and are now forced to contend with a widely spreading virulent strain of the coronavirus with fewer options at their disposal to deal with the surge.
In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, the Sudbury health region about 250 miles (400 km) north of Toronto has tightened restrictions. Officials have brought back capacity limits in public spaces, requiring residents to mask and provide proof of vaccination. Its COVID-19 recent case rate, at 164.7 per 100,000 as of Monday, is by far the highest in the province.
It has also seen positivity rates, the percentage of people tested for COVID-19 who test positive, spike to 4.43% as of Oct. 24. The provincial average that week was 1.56%.
“Less dense, less urban areas were relatively spared in this pandemic but … I think we’re starting to see the non-urban wave of COVID starting,” said Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario.
Greater Sudbury has more than 160,000 people but less hospital capacity than the Toronto area.
“What’s particularly worrisome is the number of cases and the rapid rise of cases combined with the fact that we’re seeing cases kind of all over,” including about a quarter with no identified source, said Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health for Public Health Sudbury and Districts.
On Wednesday, Ontario paused plans to raise capacity limits at sites such as sex clubs “out of an abundance of caution.”
Sutcliffe said the increased transmission in her region could be linked to both an easing of restrictions and widespread COVID-19 fatigue: “We’re all tired of the pandemic and tired of having to take precautions.”