Toronto, April 2: With health authorities across Canada on high alert for another wave of COVID-19 as health restrictions continue to ease, the Atlantic provinces, as well as the Northwest Territories, are reporting more COVID-19 cases per capita than anywhere else in Canada or the U.S.
Experts say the high case counts in these regions is likely due to the fact that some of these provinces have fewer restrictions on who is eligible for a COVID-19 test.
Comparing Canadian provinces and territories with U.S. states, Prince Edward Island is reporting an average of 350.6 daily cases over the last seven days as of Saturday. That translates to 2,216.6 cases per million, which is more than every other jurisdiction on both sides of the border.
The Northwest Territories ranks second on the list, with an average of 88.3 cases per day. That equates to 1,996.1 cases per million. This is followed by Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which are reporting 757.6, 612.1 and 567.0 cases per million, respectively.
The looser testing criteria in some of these provinces “would explain much of the difference, possibly all of it,” Colin Furness, an expert in infectious disease epidemiology from the University of Toronto said.
However, N.W.T. still has the second-highest COVID-19 case count per capita, despite the territory’s strict PCR testing eligibility criteria. Furness said the “lower population immunity in areas that have been successful with COVID in the first several waves” may be another factor that explains the high cases reported in these regions.
In late 2021, when COVID-19 cases surged across Canada due to the rise of the Omicron variant, many provinces started restricting access to laboratory tests as testing capacity became strained.
In provinces like Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and others, only health-care workers, people in long-term care homes, immunocompromised people, pregnant people and others deemed to be at a higher risk of COVID-19 are eligible to be tested at a screening clinic. Anyone else exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms are being encouraged to stay home and use rapid at-home tests.
However, in P.E.I., COVID-19 testing clinics are available for anyone who develops symptoms or has already tested positive with a rapid at-home test. P.E.I.’s top doctor has also attributed the province’s higher case counts to the wider access to testing.
“In P.E.I., we’ve had much better access to COVID-19 testing compared to other provinces and territories, given we have tested more people. It is really not accurate to compare our case rates directly with other jurisdictions,” P.E.I. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said during a COVID-19 media briefing last month.
In Nova Scotia, anyone who is symptomatic and previously tested positive on a rapid test is eligible for a PCR test. New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have more restrictions on who is eligible for a PCR test, but residents who test positive with a rapid test can report their positive results to their provinces online.