Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam waits for space to leave a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa. She says the country has reached a 'crossroads' in its battle to limit the damage from COVID-19. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Health officials say Canada has reached a ‘crossroads’ in COVID-19 fight

Canada’s Public Health Agency says the country has arrived at crucial turning point in its battle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Canada is at a crossroads and individual action to reduce contact rates will decide our path,” said a federal presentation document provided to reporters on Tuesday.

“We’re at a bit of a crossroads,” the country’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, told a news conference in Ottawa, adding that if Canadians retreat to small social circles and avoid large get-togethers, the country “can manage without a lockdown.”

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu, left, looks on as Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andree Wyld)

Tam said that if people keep coming into close contact with the number of people they do now, the epidemic curve will rise from the current average of about 1,000 cases a day to five times that number by the end of October.

“My message today is the time is now,” Tam said. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s latest modelling predicts up to 155,795 cases and up to 9,300 deaths by early October if the current trajectory of the epidemic continues.

As of Wednesday morning, the country had recorded 146, 663 cases and 9,234 deaths.

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. EDT on Sept. 23, 2020: There are 146,663 confirmed cases in Canada. — Quebec: 68,617 confirmed (including 5,805 deaths, 59,450 resolved) — Ontario: 47,752 confirmed (including 2,832 deaths, 41,342 resolved) — Alberta: 16,889 confirmed (including 258 deaths, 15,066 resolved) — British Columbia: 8,304 confirmed (including 227 deaths, 6,589 resolved) — Saskatchewan: 1,824 confirmed (including 24 deaths, 1,654 resolved) — Manitoba: 1,632 confirmed (including 18 deaths, 1,234 resolved) — Nova Scotia: 1,087 confirmed (including 65 deaths, 1,021 resolved) — Newfoundland and Labrador: 272 confirmed (including 3 deaths, 267 resolved) — New Brunswick: 196 confirmed (including 2 deaths, 191 resolved) — Prince Edward Island: 57 confirmed (including 56 resolved) — Yukon: 15 confirmed (including 15 resolved) — Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed (including 13 resolved) — Northwest Territories: 5 confirmed (including 5 resolved) — Nunavut: No confirmed cases — Total: 146,663 (0 presumptive, 146,663 confirmed including 9,234 deaths, 126,903 resolved) (The Canadian Press)

The latest modeling shows hospitalizations lagging behind increases in reported cases, but data show early indications of an increase, while COVID-19-related deaths remain low. 

The data also show that outbreaks are now being reported in a greater number of settings, including as a  result of private gatherings, as well as in long-term care homes and schools.

And the virus is accelerating nationally and unevenly across Canada, with the Atlantic provinces continuing to show a lower percentage of cases than the rest of Canada.

Noting that there has been a significant demographic shift in the COVID-19 caseload since June–with the most infections now being reported in Canadians aged 20 to 39–Tam issued a special appeal to young people.

“This is your generation, this is your time,” Tam said.

“We can own this pandemic, and not let it own us.”

Tam said the epidemic is capable of surging into a “very sharp and intense peak” because most Canadians don’t have immunity to the virus.

“This surge could overwhelm our health system capacity and significantly impact social and economic systems as well,” she said.

“The challenge we face now is to stay the course no matter how weary we may feel.” 

With files from CBC News (Kathleen Harris), The Canadian Press

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