Canada's top doctor says this coming week will be a crucial time during which public health officials will start to see if the aggressive physical distancing measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are working.
Dr. Theresa Tam said she is keeping a close eye on Ontario, Quebec and Alberta provinces where the coronavirus is spreading within the community to see if there will be a decrease in the rate of new confirmed cases, as British Columbia has seen.
"I still think it's a little too early to tell because we are only at the end of March, but next week will be very important in terms of looking at those trends," said Tam at her daily update on Sunday.
Canada currently has over 6,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and just over 60 Canadians have died from it. Thousands more people are awaiting test results.
The number of confirmed cases hasincreased rapidly since the beginning of the month as testing ramped up and travellers were called home from abroad.
Provincial and municipal governments began taking steps in earnest to reduce the spread of COVID-19 about two weeks ago closing schools and businesses, restricting mass gatherings and encouraging people to work from home.
But because of the incubation period of the virus, which can survive in the human body for up to 14 days, measures taken over the course of the past two weeks won't start showing up in the data tracking the rate of spread until this week, Tam said.
On Friday, the B.C. government released a report showing that physical distancing measures had helped to cut the province's rate of growth in new cases to 12 per cent per day. Without physical distancing measures, the report said that number would be closer to 24 per cent.
B.C.'s chief public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the data offered a "glimmer of hope," but that the province needed to stay the course.
"I'm trying not to over-call it, but I do believe we've seen a flattening, a falling-off of that curve," said Henry on Friday.
Watch: Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. is starting to see 'glimmers of hope'
More than a million Canadian citizens and permanent residents returned home from other countries between March 14 and March 20, the Canada Border Services Agency said last week.
Tam said she'll be paying close attention to whether returning travellers brought the virus with them.
"With the influx of any groups of persons, whether it's from a cruise ship or from returning travellers like the snowbirds, we have to be really,really vigilant and do the sort of rapid case identification, contact tracing," said Tam.
"If someone is actually staying in the home for that 14 days where the incubation period occurs, that is the fundamental public health measure."
At the same time as trying to reduce the rate of the spread, governments and health care providers are preparing for a surge of hospitalizations. They are also taking steps to make sure hospitals have enough personal protective equipment to protect health-care workers when it comes.
Tam said hospitals are seeking to empty out hospital beds and reduce occupancy rates in intensive care units to make room for COVID-19 patients.
Tam said some hospitals are trying to reduce what she calls the "burn rate" of protective masks and other equipment as the federal government seeks to obtain more.
She says these measures make sense to ensure masks and other needed resources are not wasted before more can be obtained.
"Responding to a pandemic is also about handling and prioritizing your most critical and scarce resources," said Tam. "So is the effort to preserve them as much as possible while we're still getting some more as well."
Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo says the federal government is in the process of purchasing more ventilators for COVID-19 patients, but it is too early to say how many will be needed.