Reduce contacts now or hospitals will be overwhelmed by Omicron, says Tam

Reduce contacts now or hospitals will be overwhelmed by Omicron, says Tam-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference on Jan. 12 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s chief public health officer says this will not be the holiday season Canadians were hoping for, warning people that if they don’t reduce their contacts over the next several weeks, the country’s hospitals will be overwhelmed. 

Dr. Theresa Tam told The National’s Andrew Chang on Monday that now is not the time to be gathering in big numbers.

“Even if Omicron happens to be milder than the previous virus variants, because it’s spreading so rapidly … even a small proportion of people winding up in hospital is going to overwhelm our systems.”

Canada reported more than 14,000 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, though some of the cases were from the weekend, with cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant soaring and quickly overtaking Delta in many jurisdictions.

While some provinces have already moved to reduce capacity limits in indoor spaces, Tam believes more restrictions may be necessary.

“Putting on the brakes, as we all know, quickly can allow us to resume activities at the other end faster,” she said.

In its early days, Omicron appeared to be affecting mostly younger people. But Tam says, as it spreads, it is going to affect more and more workers and workplaces and so it is crucial that workplaces give their employees the most effective protection possible: “The best masks possible that you can get your hands on, making sure ventilation is improved in those workplaces, and making sure they get access to vaccines.”

Finally, Tam said it is time to ditch the cloth masks. They are not going to protect you against Omicron.

“You cannot have a single-layered cloth mask,” she said. “The medical masks are better at filtering viruses.” But even the three-ply surgical type might not be enough, she added, saying N95-type respirators are a better fit for people’s faces.

Tam reiterated again today that every pandemic ends and that this one, too, will run its course. But she said it will be a number of months at least, and that helping other countries get vaccinated and get their spread of cases under control will be the key to reaching that point.


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