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Thanksgiving in Canada comes amid virus’s second wave, mixed messages
Health & BeautyOct 11. 2020Photo by: The Washington Post — The Washington Post
By The Washington Post · Amanda Coletta · WORLD, HEALTH, THE-AMERICAS, HEALTH-NEWS
TORONTO – With cases of the coronavirus rising this spring, Carole Robert’s “close-knit” family scrapped Easter. A family reunion planned for the summer was also a wash.
So when Robert got on the phone with a sister recently to talk Thanksgiving – a holiday she typically celebrates with some 35 family members – she knew what was coming.
“It’s completely canceled,” said Robert, who lives in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, roughly 60 miles from Ottawa. “There’s always next year.”
Canadian Thanksgiving comes earlier than the American version – families will gather to eat turkey and avoid discussing politics on Monday. But in this pandemic year, the timing is unfortunate.
As a second wave of the coronavirus prompts new restrictions in several provinces, authorities across the country are urging Canadians to curtail their holiday plans. Some suggest celebrating only with others who are already living under the same roof. Others advise moving the party outdoors or online.
In a rare nationally televised address last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it might be necessary to cancel Thanksgiving to “have a shot at Christmas.”
Whether Canadians obey those pleas remains to be seen. Forty percent of Canadians surveyed by the Montreal polling firm Leger this month said they haven’t or won’t change their Thanksgiving plans because of the pandemic.
Canada’s experience Monday might offer a preview of what Americans can expect next month – and a warning about what to avoid.
The United States has recorded nearly five times as many cases of coronavirus per capita than Canada and more than twice as many deaths. But Canada’s numbers are moving in the wrong direction, reversing gains made in the late spring and early summer. Officials worry the worst is yet to come as winter approaches, bringing with it flu season and temperatures that force more people indoors.
The country reported an average of 2,052 new daily cases over the last seven days on Thursday, up 30 percent from the week before, according to Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. Daily case counts have eclipsed the records set in the spring when tougher restrictions were in place. Hospitalizations are up.
The second wave has hit the country unevenly. Roughly 80 percent of new cases are in Ontario and Quebec, Canada’s most populous provinces. The four provinces that formed an “Atlantic bubble” in July and the remote northern territories have largely been spared. Most of the infected are young people, who generally fare better then the elderly with covid-19, but the virus is spreading to other demographics.
Infectious-disease specialists see several reasons for the surge: Large social gatherings; the reopening of bars and restaurants; the failure of officials to take advantage of a summer of comparatively few cases to prepare for a fall wave; pandemic fatigue.
“My fear here is that we’re going to have a really dark fall and winter if we don”t act,” said University of Toronto professor Andrew Morris, an infectious-disease specialist at the Mount Sinai Hospital and University Health Network.
As in Europe, provinces are shying away from reimposing the broad business closures and stay-at-home orders of the spring, opting instead for targeted local measures that officials hope will inflict less damage on their economies.
Quebec has gone the furthest. Its three hardest hit areas – Montreal, Quebec City and parts of the southeastern Chaudière-Appalaches region – entered a 28-day partial lockdown on Oct. 1. More regions followed. Bars, theaters, casinos and museums are closed. Restaurants are limited to takeout. Private gatherings among people from different households are mostly prohibited.
Christian Dubé, the provincial health minister, said there’s more community transmission in more parts of the province than there was in the spring, when many outbreaks occurred in long-term care homes and cases were largely concentrated in Montreal.
“Don’t take the risk,” he said. “Don’t test the system. … Stay home.”
In Ontario, testing centers are so overwhelmed that officials have tightened the criteria for who can get a test. A backlog of tens of thousands of samples has left officials flying blind on the source of infections and the scope of the problem. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has scaled back contact tracing.
Progressive Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford has responded with harsh words for rule breakers. The organizers of large social gatherings, he said, are “a few fries short of a Happy Meal.” The hundreds who attended a car rally in a parking lot in Hamilton last month should get their brains scanned, he said.
He had for several weeks resisted calls, including from Toronto’s top doctor, to do more. He said early last week that he needed to see more evidence before taking “someone’s livelihood away” and that the province was “flattening the curve.”
But on Friday, Ford’s tone changed, and he warned that Ontario was at risk of the “worst-case scenarios” seen in northern Italy. He announced restrictions in hard-hit areas, including a ban on indoor dining at bars and restaurants, and the closing of indoor gyms, theaters and casinos for at least 28 days.
Infectious-disease specialists say the response has been hampered by muddled messaging. Dubé has admitted that communication in Quebec could have been better. Different officials in Ontario have offered varying definitions of “household” and contradictory advice on how or whether to gather for Thanksgiving – even within the same news conference.
Ford described his own holiday plans, then appeared to change them after it was pointed out that they contradicted his own government’s advice to celebrate only with those in one’s immediate household.
Morris, the University of Toronto professor, said the messaging mishaps risk damaging public trust in officials when it’s most needed.
“There’s been a failure to recognize the inconsistent messaging … and an almost delusion that if you implore people to behave differently, then they will behave differently,” he said. “In almost every jurisdiction that hasn’t occurred, and we’ve failed to learn from other jurisdictions.”
Canadians observe Thanksgiving each year on the second Monday of October. As in the United States, many celebrate with turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. College students return home. The Canadian Football League typically plays a game or two – the Thanksgiving Day Classic – but the league canceled the season this year after failing to secure financial aid from the federal government.
Thanksgiving accounts for 39 percent of annual whole turkey sales, according to the Turkey Farmers of Canada. The national supermarket group Loblaw says it’s emphasizing smaller birds this year, in the expectation they’ll be more popular for smaller gatherings, but will still have large turkeys, “because, really, who doesn’t love leftovers?”
Robert is skipping the turkey this year. She said it’s been “extremely hard” not to see her family, but she has two brothers with cancer, and everyone has agreed that gathering isn’t worth the risk.
She’s keeping her fingers crossed for a more normal Christmas, but she’s not optimistic.
“When you look at the numbers,” she said, “I doubt that we’re all going to see each other.”