As Mask Mandates End, Canada’s Atlantic Provinces See Rise in Covid Cases

Canada’s Atlantic provinces, once a sort of refuge from the pandemic, are seeing a resurgence in known coronavirus infections as most provinces have ended mask mandates and scaled back data surveillance on virus transmission.

The four eastern provinces — Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island — were relatively shielded, in part by location, from the rampant virus transmission that gripped the rest of Canada during previous waves. Part of the strategy was to restrict travelers from outside the province in what came to be known as the Atlantic “bubble.”

The “bubble” has burst, but inter-county travel is less of a concern to public health experts than the effects of recently terminated mandates.

“We’ve started removing masks, which is a big deal for Canada,” said Tara Moriarty, an infectious disease researcher and professor at the University of Toronto.

But measuring the effect of changes in public health restrictions is complicated by a lack of public data, as most counties have reduced the frequency of their reporting.

“The consequences are really serious in terms of the number of infections because people think it’s not that bad and they behave accordingly,” said Dr. moriarty.

In Nova Scotia, a province of about a million people, positive test results for the coronavirus have risen since March, although the numbers, according to a report issued by its public health agency. In Canada as a whole, the daily average of new cases is 10,073, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Some infectious disease experts, including Dr. Lisa Barrett, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, recommended to the county that indoor mask mandates remain in place, and it’s unclear what the threshold would be to revive some public health measures.

“It’s really hard for people, without data being reported more often, to remember that we’re in a pandemic,” said Dr. Barrett, adding that the mask was a helpful visual cue.

Newfoundland and Labrador have also reduced daily data reporting; the province recorded the highest number of Covid deaths in April.

Amy Hurford, an infectious disease modeling expert at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, has her own dashboard

“I think it fills a need where people can get a better sense of situational awareness by synthesizing the information that’s available from a number of different sources,” said Dr. Hurford.

Canada’s overall test positivity rate is 18 percent, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Despite an increase in hospital admissions in some jurisdictions, intensive care occupancy rates remain low, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, at a news conference on Friday.

Booster shots also seem to have leveled off, months after the winter holiday frenzy to book limited appointments. About 81 percent of Canadians have been fully vaccinated, and just over 47 percent have also been boosted, according to government data

“We probably haven’t done enough good communication from all quarters, public health and otherwise. And so we’re trying to do that again and give it another chance,” said Dr. Tam.


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