Alberta and Saskatchewan are being slammed in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But if you back up to the start, it was Quebec that was having the worst time. Ontario, too, had called in the military for assistance in long-term-care homes.
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A look at the data across the country shows a pandemic that?has affected different parts of the country differently.
“The first wave was, really, all the provinces responded pretty much alike, in the same manner — lockdowns and other public-health orders, hand-washing, and staying home was really big,” said Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan.
Since then, approaches have changed. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has aggressively pursued a re-opening strategy at various points in the pandemic. Saskatchewan, too, abruptly dropped pandemic restrictions in summer 2021.
Others have taken a more cautious approach.
“The four Atlantic provinces have had an experience and response to COVID-19 that is so different than the rest of the six provinces,” said Muhajarine. “That is the most stark kind of observation.”
The Atlantic provinces aggressively chased a strategy meant to keep cases from entering the region — and stamping them out when they arrive.
It shows in the numbers.
Prince Edward Island has zero deaths. When you look at death rates, which control for population variation across the country, Nova Scotia’s rate is 10 per 100,000 people, New Brunswick’s is nine per 100,000 people and Newfoundland and Labrador’s is two per 100,000 people.
This is orders of magnitude smaller than in Quebec (133 per 100,000) or Ontario (66 per 100,000), Manitoba (88 per 100,000), Saskatchewan (61 per 100,000), Alberta (62 per 100,000) and British Columbia (39 per 100,000).
“B.C., Quebec and Ontario had a lot of deaths because they were linked to long-term-care homes,” said Muhajarine.
Case counts also vary substantially across the country. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec all have a total case rate of more than 4,500 per 100,000; Ontario, B.C. and Manitoba come in at less than 4,500 per 100,000.
In the North, only the Northwest Territories has a case rate above 2,000 per 100,000. In the Atlantic provinces, none are above 700 per 100,000.
These figures disguise some of the other factors at play.
While Quebec might have the highest death rate in the country — roughly double Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario — the numbers change dramatically over time.
Quebec’s death rate in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic first began, peaked at more than 14 deaths per 100,000. No other province has come close to that, except for Manitoba in the second wave, which saw deaths at roughly 13 per 100,000. At that time, Quebec’s death rate was less than 10 per 100,000, as was Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s, whereas B.C. and Ontario hovered around five per 100,000.
In the past two weeks, the death rate in Quebec is just 0.7 per 100,000, while in Alberta, it’s 4.7 per 100,000, and in Saskatchewan it’s 6.4 per 100,000.
In some provinces, deaths were higher in waves one and two than in waves three and four, even if case counts were higher in 2021 than in 2020. That’s likely because of age and vaccinations, said Muhajarine.
“Age is a classic confounder when we are comparing deaths and hospitalizations over two time periods, because vaccinations among older people were low in January and high in September,” said Muhajarine.
After a lull in the summer of 2020, cases began to climb last fall, carrying through until Christmas. Another lull, after public-health restrictions had their effect, presaged a third wave in spring 2021. Many provinces saw peaks in their cases and deaths in waves two and three. And now, after a relatively calm summer, there’s a fourth wave hitting parts of the country.
“This fourth wave, I think, Saskatchewan and Alberta, (is) because we lifted restrictions early and completely,” said Muhajarine. “Other provinces began to lift their restrictions as well. B.C., Manitoba to some extent, Ontario, Quebec, but they were more cautious — the lifting of restrictions was spread over a longer period. And it was done slowly, cautiously, incrementally. Alberta and Saskatchewan lifted all of them kind of basically overnight.”
The National Post gathered data on everything from deaths to cases to hospitalizations from each province that either publishes such information online, or that responded to its requests in order to examine the worst times in the pandemic, in each province.
The Post was unable to get complete information for: British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Canada’s third-largest province has seen the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic, with 190,372, behind Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.
As with other provinces, it instituted many lockdown measures during the first wave of the pandemic, only to ease them through summer 2020, and bring them back into place when, on Oct. 19, 2020, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the chief public health officer, said the second wave was hitting.
Various region-specific public health measures were introduced, and November saw the province get its mandatory mask mandate.
It was in April 2021, when the third wave hit, that B.C. was adding the most cases, around 1,300 per day at the peak of the wave.
Like other provinces, British Columbia loosened its restrictions in the summer of 2021, but brought back some of them, including a mask mandate, once cases began to climb again. The province also has a vaccine passport.
Over the course of the pandemic, 1,983 British Columbians have died from COVID-19, a death rate of 39 per 100,000 people — higher than the Atlantic provinces and the North, but considerably lower than the other large provinces.
Total cases: 190,372
Total deaths: 1,983
Death rate: 38 per 100,000
Peak daily deaths: 28, Dec. 10, 2020
Current hospitalizations: 345
Cumulative hospitalizations: 10,087
Peak hospitalizations: 515, April 28, 2021
Current ICU occupancy: 144
Peak daily ICU occupancy: 183, May 2, 2021
Cumulative ICU occupancy: 2,943
Current active cases: 5,937
Peak active cases: 10,075, April 16, 2021
Peak new daily cases: 1,314, April 7, 2021
Alberta was spared the worst of the pandemic during the first wave and the long-term-care outbreaks that caused so much death in Ontario and Quebec.
The first wave in Alberta peaked on April 30, 2020, with roughly 2,900 active cases, before cases began to come down and public-health restrictions were relaxed.
But the second wave hit the province hard, with nearly 21,000 active cases in mid-December. (These figures are different than daily new cases.)
It was during this wave that Alberta saw its peak daily deaths — 30 on Jan. 2, 2021.
Significant public-health restrictions came in over a period of several weeks in November and December 2020, including restrictions on gatherings that severely limited Christmas celebrations.
While restrictions eased February to March 2021, the province’s re-opening was halted in late March as the third wave began. This wave did not hit the province as hard as waves two and four, at least in terms of hospitalizations and death — although the highest active case counts were recorded in that wave.
In late-spring 2021, Premier Jason Kenney announced that all COVID-19 restrictions were lifting after the province hit its vaccination benchmarks.
But by mid-August, case counts began to climb rapidly, heralding the onset of the fourth wave, which has seen some of the highest hospitalization figures — a “crisis of the unvaccinated,” Kenney said.
In the fourth wave, Alberta leads the nation in active cases.
Total cases: 293,538
Total deaths: 2,645
Death rate: 60 per 100,000
Peak deaths: 30, Jan. 2, 2021
Current hospitalizations, including ICU: 1,063
Current ICU occupancy: 265
Peak hospitalizations: 1,072, Sept. 23, 2021
Cumulative hospitalizations: 12,445
Peak ICU occupancy: 265, Sept. 26, 2021
Cumulative ICU: 2,393
Current active cases: 21,307
Peak active cases: 25,128, May 9, 2021
Peak new daily cases: 2,406, April 30, 2021
Alberta’s statistics are accurate until end of day Sept. 26
Saskatchewan has also experienced a bad fourth wave, with a number of records broken in the last several weeks.
Premier Scott Moe’s government introduced a vaccine passport.
Yet Saskatchewan also saw significant numbers of cases and deaths in the second and third waves.
In the fall of 2020, Saskatchewan experienced a second wave. There were outbreaks linked to nightclubs, health authorities said, and in November 2020, new restrictions came in that limited social gatherings.
As Christmas approached, cases continued to climb. While peak active cases are higher now, the second wave saw the most daily deaths and active case counts peaked around 4,700 — just shy of where the fourth wave has peaked.
A third wave in late March to late June 2021 also saw thousands of active cases, though never more than 3,000. This wave saw a variety of closures meant to slow the spread. It was around this time that COVID-19 variants hit Saskatchewan.
By early July, the province had a wide-ranging vaccination campaign underway, and low new daily case counts, so dropped the majority of its public-health restrictions.
The fourth wave began ticking upwards in late July and early August, eclipsing the third wave by early September.
Total cases: 68,644
Total deaths: 711
Death rate: 59 per 100,000
Peak daily deaths: 14, Jan. 26, 2021
Current hospitalizations, including ICU: 321
Peak hospitalizations: 321, Oct. 3, 2021
Cumulative hospitalizations, including ICU: 4,250
Current ICU occupancy: 69
Peak daily ICU occupancy: 72, Sept. 30 2021
Cumulative ICU occupancy: 844
Current active cases: 4,718
Peak active cases: 4,864, Sept. 26, 2021
Peak new daily cases: 602, Sept. 30, 2021
Saskatchewan’s statistics are accurate up to Oct. 3, 2021
Manitoba did not have an especially damaging first wave, adding only a couple dozen new cases on the worst days. A lockdown introduced April 1 tamped down most of it.
But it was hit hard during the second and third waves. Restrictions were implemented across Manitoba by mid-November and they lasted through the holiday season. These limited gatherings and capacity in stores, and non-essential businesses were closed.
While the peak new daily cases came during the third wave, the numbers were not far ahead of the second wave. The third wave came after weeks of relative relaxation, and Manitoba dropped some of its restrictions, such as allowing households to gather.
Restrictions were brought back in mid-April 2021 as cases began to climb again. While deaths and hospitalizations had been at their worst during the second wave, the third wave saw the most new daily cases and the highest levels of intensive care occupancy in the province. During the third wave, Manitoba had the worst case rate in the country, measured by population.
In late May, the province was having to transfer patients to Saskatchewan and Ontario for care, as hospital ICUs were overloaded.
Manitoba’s restrictions lifted over the summer as vaccinations increased.
The province implemented a vaccine passport in early September. In early October, as cases climbed again, new rules came into effect to control the activities of the unvaccinated.
Total cases: 60,333
Total deaths: 1,211
Death rate: 88 per 100,000
Peak daily deaths: 22, Nov. 18, 2020
Current hospitalizations, including ICU?: 82
Peak hospitalizations*: 231 per 100,000, Dec. 3, 2020
Cumulative hospitalizations: 4,187
Current ICU occupancy*: 19
Peak daily ICU occupancy**: 62 per 100,000, May 16, 2021
Cumulative ICU occupancy: 910
Current active cases***: 613
Peak active cases: 8,436, Dec. 4, 2020
Peak new daily cases: 601, May 18, 2021
*Manitoba counts active (currently COVID-19 positive) and total (hospitalized with COVID but not currently COVID-19 positive). These figures are total, not active.
**Manitoba provided its figures as a rate, not a hard number.
**This figure is from a Manitoba dataset, however, a provincial spokesperson said they fluctuate because of active/recovered cases and may not be accurate.
Manitoba’s statistics are accurate until Sept. 28, 2021
In the early days of the pandemic, Ontario had outbreaks at scores of long-term-care homes.
The highest daily death rate was 84, on April 19, 2020, at the peak of the first wave. During the second wave, Ontario reached 77 deaths on the worst day.
This puts Ontario in stark contrast with other provinces, particularly in western Canada, where the first wave was not as significant.
The nursing home outbreaks led to the government calling in the military for assistance.
Ontario closed many non-essential businesses and restricted gatherings back in March 2020. Schools were also closed. The province would go further by the end of March, closing down outdoor spaces like playgrounds.
As cases eased, the restrictions did, too, lifting over the late spring and summer months, until the second wave hit and they were brought back into place. In early October 2020, as cases began to climb rapidly at the start of the second wave, Premier Doug Ford announced a mask mandate.
At this point in the pandemic, Ontario was using a regional approach to restrictions, although some measures applied across the province.
But by Christmas, there was a province-wide lockdown in effect, meant to save the hospital system from collapse. Between roughly late December 2020 and early March 2021, Ontario was under some version of health restrictions meant to slow the spread.
As in other provinces, the worst of the case counts and hospitalizations hit Ontario in the third wave. This wave, which saw the highest numbers, also saw significant public-health restrictions and the closure of schools.
Ontario, while not experiencing as dramatic a fourth wave as other provinces, has put in place a vaccine passport.
Total cases: 585,007
Total deaths: 9,715
Death rate: 66 per 100,000
Peak daily deaths: 84, April 19, 2020
Current hospitalizations, including ICU: 315
Peak hospitalizations: 2,367, April 18, 2021
Cumulative hospitalizations: 29,832
Current ICU occupancy: 152
Peak daily ICU occupancy*: 828, April 30, 2021
Cumulative ICU occupancy: 5,831
Current active cases: 5,262
Peak active cases: 42,941, April 20, 2021
Peak new daily cases: 5,068, April 14, 2021
*Ontario data separates those who are in ICU from a COVID-related illness, but who may not be testing positive, from those who are in ICU and test positive. This figure is for those in ICU who test positive. In other words, there may be more people who are in ICU because they had COVID-19, but who are not currently testing positive.
Ontario’s statistics are accurate as of Sept. 27, 2021
Quebec still leads the country for the worst death rate. But the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic in Quebec came far earlier than in the rest of Canada.
In the early days, Quebec quickly closed down much of its economy.
By July 2020 there was a mask mandate, and then, as cases began to climb in September 2020, the province instituted regional restrictions; these ratcheted up over the course of the second wave.
Cases at this point were higher than in the first wave, but death rates were lower. It was also in the second wave, in January 2021, when the province instituted a curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. By March 2021, the province relaxed some of its restrictions, only to bring them back in April, including the curfew in some regions.
Quebec was also among the first provinces to announce a vaccine passport system, in July 2021. Vccination had also opened up for children aged 12 to 18.
Over the course of last summer in Quebec, restrictions relaxed, though not with the rapidity of other provinces.
With cases climbing again through August, the province rolled out its vaccine passport system. It came into effect Sept. 1.
Total cases: 412,364
Total deaths: 11,389
Death rate: 133 per 100,000
Peak daily deaths: 152, April 29, 2020
Current hospitalizations, including ICU: 290
Peak hospitalizations: 1,866, May 12, 2020
Cumulative hospitalizations: 25,688
Current ICU occupancy: 88
Peak daily ICU occupancy: 231, Jan. 14, 2021
Cumulative ICU occupancy: 4,674
Current active cases: 5,266
Peak active cases: 29,137, Jan. 8, 2021
Peak new daily cases: 2,864, Jan. 6, 2021
Quebec’s statistics are accurate as of Oct. 4, 2021
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador have the lowest death rates in the country.
They’ve also had the lowest case counts, adjusted per capita.
In the early days of the pandemic, the provinces instituted travel bans. Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick all strictly limited non-essential travel and required those who entered to self-isolate for 14 days, limiting the importation of the virus.
At various times, they also operated an “Atlantic Bubble” that allowed those within the region to travel, but not allowing Canadians from other provinces to enter.
Still, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have cases climbing at various times.
New Brunswick, with 767 active cases as of Oct. 4, actually has a higher case rate per capita than Ontario or Quebec. In New Brunswick, it’s 99 per 100,000, compared to 31 per 100,000 in Ontario and 59 per 100,000 in Quebec.
On Sept. 19, 2021, the province logged 199 new cases — its highest daily increase of the pandemic. On Oct. 5, the province announced circuit breaker restrictions in parts of the province to bring the case counts under control.
Nova Scotia has 248 active cases; Prince Edward Island has 10 active cases and Newfoundland and Labrador has 153.
Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon have also implemented strict travel requirements.
Nunavut, for example, required quarantining at a government site in the south before travelling back to the territory. It still has travel restrictions in effect.
Yukon’s border controls — along with many of its other public-health restrictions — lifted in the summer, and the Northwest Territories still requires travellers, resident or otherwise, to fill out a self-isolation plan upon entering. Leisure travel for non-residents is still prohibited.
But there are higher case counts in these territories, too.
The Northwest Territories has 334 active cases, with a case rate of 740 per 100,000 — the highest per capita case rate in the country. It is the only one of the three seeing a substantial spike in cases in the fourth wave.
Yukon has 23 active cases, and a case rate of 55 per 100,000
Nunavut has one active case and a case rate of three per 100,000.
All total, the territories have seen 19 deaths over the course of the pandemic.
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