In a reversal of earlier pandemic trends, Canada is on the verge of matching — perhaps surpassing — the United States in the number of COVID-19 cases relative to its population.
Updated data compiled from the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dataset shows that the United States sits at roughly 196 COVID-19 cases per one million people, and Canada, as of Tuesday, was at 180 cases per one million people.
While this amounts to, in raw numbers, a difference of some 59 million cases, it’s a worrisome trend, experts say.
Anthony Dale, the president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said the United States has suffered “the biggest public health catastrophe in probably the modern Western world’s history.”
While the situation is improving south of the 49th because of a massive vaccination campaign, Canada is trending the opposite direction, yet we’re still feeling a bit of “Canadian exceptionalism” Dale said, even as we’re “probably about to surpass” the U.S. in terms of community spread.
“We’ve been somewhat blind to our overall performance internationally because we’re sitting right next door to the United States and the disaster that clearly was their experience during this pandemic,” Dale said. “They have clearly experienced much worse outcomes overall than Canada, make no mistake, however, it’s the future I’m worried about, and we’re trending in a worrisome direction in comparison to them when it comes to community spread.”
The figures come as Canada is solidly in the midst of a third wave of COVID, driven in part by deadly and contagious variants, and a vaccination rate lagging behind many other nations. As of Tuesday, around one-third of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 16 per cent in Canada.
When looking at the numbers of residents fully vaccinated, the rates are even starker: The U.S. has fully vaccinated roughly 19 per cent of the population, compared to 1.9 per cent of the population in Canada.
Noel Gibney, a professor emeritus in the faculty of medicine at the University of Alberta, said there’s little question we’ll pass the U.S. in COVID-19 cases on a population basis in the next few days, although the U.S. may catch up again as the variants take hold, even with the vaccination rates where they are.
“It certainly points out that any notion that we’ve been doing particularly well compared to the States doesn’t always hold true. I think we’ve managed the first and second waves better than they did. This one, I think we have really not covered ourselves in glory at all,” Gibney said.
In another blow to Canada’s psyche, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, in an April 2 update, says Canada’s COVID-19 rate is “very high” — the highest level ranked — and urges Americans against travel to Canada, specifically citing the number of variant cases in the country.
“Because of the current situation in Canada, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Canada,” the CDC says.
In a more positive light, Canada outpaces the United States — and many other nations — on different metrics. As of March 27 — more recent data isn’t readily available — Canada had 62 people per million in hospital compared to 104 per million in the United States, 65 per million in the United Kingdom, 80 per million in Israel and 400 per million in France, according to European Union and other government data compiled by Our World in Data.
As well, Canada’s death rate is lower. In Canada, 0.91 people per million have died of COVID-19, according to April 6 data, compared to 2.34 per million in the United States, 0.5 per million in the United Kingdom and 3.96 per million France.
But cases, as Gibney pointed out, are a leading indicator, meaning that as COVID cases climb, hospitalization and deaths will also climb in the coming days and weeks.
The combination of increased case rates — including surging COVID-19 variant cases in some parts of the country — and the slow pace of the vaccine rollout has led to another round of lockdowns. Across the country, there have been more than 16,000 COVID-19 variant cases.
Alberta on Tuesday announced a return to public health restrictions, such as no indoor dining, no solo workouts at gyms, that were in place as the second wave spiralled out of control in December.
On Wednesday, Ontario announced a four-week stay-at-home order to control the virus’s spread and allow time for more people to get vaccinated.