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Cyclists and pedestrians make their way along the Humber Bay Arch Bridge in Toronto on Canada Day, July 1, 2020.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 cases in Canada are becoming less severe, with a lower rate of patients needing hospital care or mechanical ventilation.

From June 17 to 23, 10 per cent of people with COVID-19 were admitted to hospital, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s latest epidemiological report, published on Friday. That compares with a hospital admission rate of 15 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

The numbers for intensive care unit admissions are similar: 17 per cent from June 17 to 23, compared with 20 per cent since the start of the pandemic. And last week, only 2 per cent of patients in hospital needed mechanical ventilation, compared with 4 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

Janine McCready, an infectious-diseases physician at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, said the drop in case severity and a lower rate of infections among people over the age of 60 are a major win, allowing more Canadians to enjoy “social bubbles” and increased interactions with friends and family over the warm summer months.

The drop in the rate of severe cases could reflect that fewer vulnerable, elderly people are becoming infected as provinces such as Ontario and Quebec bring outbreaks at long-term care homes under control. More young people, particularly those in their 20s, are testing positive, and as they are much less likely to suffer serious complications, it makes sense for the hospital admission rate to go down, said Gerald Evans, chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University in Kingston.

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But some infectious-disease experts are warning the development could create a false sense of security, causing people to be less careful about physical distancing, which could lead to new outbreaks.

“When [hospital admissions] starts to drop, people think it’s less of a problem, maybe this isn’t a big deal,” Dr. Evans said. “That’s the dark side of this.”

While Canada’s successes should be celebrated, experts such as Dr. McCready are also watching the unfolding situation in the U.S., where states that reopened weeks ago are now seeing record surges in new infections, many of them among people under 40. Many provinces are taking a more cautious approach than states such as Arizona, Florida and Texas, where indoor establishments such as bars have been open for weeks. But there is still concern that Canada could be vulnerable if too much complacency sets in as the country reopens.

Even though young people are less likely to need hospital care or die as a result of COVID-19 compared with seniors, some will experience serious complications. And young people play a role in the spread of COVID-19, including to vulnerable individuals who are more likely to suffer serious harm from the disease.

PHAC’s latest report shows that people aged 20 to 29 are the only age group in the country not seeing a major drop in new infections since May 1. The report shows that from June 17 to 23, 22 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada were among people aged 20 to 29, even though they only account for 14 per cent of the population.

PHAC and many medical experts suggest the number of infections in younger age groups is growing because they are more likely to be out, either socializing or at work. Testing criteria have also loosened, which means young people with fewer or milder symptoms could be tested compared with earlier in the pandemic.

Dr. McCready said it will be important to monitor whether there is a continued uptick in young people testing positive for the virus.

“If we see enough of an increase in the younger age group, it will certainly cause a problem,” Dr. McCready said.

She said she fears some parts of Canada could experience the same problems facing California. That state went into lockdown early, mandated mask-wearing in public and took other measures to keep the number of new infections at bay, but the rates of COVID-19 are now soaring, weeks after the economy reopened.

“California scares me,” Dr. McCready said. “They do have responsible leadership. They did quite well early on.”

While most parts of Canada have successfully flattened the curve, continuing problems, such as outbreaks among migrant farmers in the Windsor, Ont., area, show how easily the virus can take off, she said.

The challenge going forward, Dr. McCready said, is to find a good balance between enjoying some of the freedoms of a reopened society while maintaining vigilance.

“You need to adapt your behaviour and be responsible,” she said.

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