British Columbia

13 more people die of COVID-19 in B.C., as province confirms 738 new cases

B.C. has recorded another 13 deaths from COVID-19 and 738 new cases of the disease, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Wednesday.

Hospitalizations hit another record high at 294 patients, with 61 in critical care.

Wednesday marks 18 days since restrictions were first introduced in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health authorities. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C. has recorded another 13 deaths from COVID-19 and 738 new cases of the disease, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Wednesday.

It marks the highest one-day total for deaths in B.C. since the pandemic began.

The number of people in hospital with the disease continues to set new records with yet another new high of 294 patients, 61 of whom are in critical care. Across the province, there are now 7,616 active cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Henry reminded everyone of provincewide restrictions on social interactions that prohibit any gatherings with people who aren't in your immediate household.

"It is important for all of us to stay within one bubble," she said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix offered a simple rule for determining whether an activity is safe right now: "When in doubt, rule it out."

To date, 29,086 cases of the virus have been confirmed in B.C., including 371 people who have died. There are currently 10,270 people in isolation and under active monitoring by public health workers because of close contact with known cases.

There have been no new outbreaks in the health-care system, and an outbreak at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster has been declared over. There are currently 52 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living and five in hospitals.

That includes an outbreak at Burnaby Hospital, where 55 patients have tested positive for the disease and five people died.

Preparation for a vaccine is underway

Asked Wednesday about whether B.C. had done enough to prepare for the second wave of the pandemic, Henry acknowledged that there have been setbacks, including challenges in acquiring accurate tests and the reagents necessary for them.

"I don't think we're at the point where I can say we should have done one thing or another thing. I was surprised at how soon in the fall we started to see the surge," she said.

She also spoke about planning that is currently underway in terms of what will happen when a vaccine becomes available, and said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is working with the federal government on a rollout.

"We want to get it to the right people at the right time — safely. We are all very much focused on who is most at risk and how do we protect them best," she said.

She said the goal is to have everything in place for a vaccine to be delivered by the first week of January.

Data error responsible for big spike on Tuesday

During Wednesday's update, Henry also revealed previous errors in data collection for Fraser Health in recent days.

As a result, what appeared to be a record high of 941 new cases reported on Tuesday was actually a mistake — the correct number is 695 new cases across the province Tuesday. Of those, 432 cases were in Fraser Health, representing 62 per cent of the new cases provincewide, not the 72 per cent that was reported.

The data correction by the government, which spans eight days of figures dating back to Nov. 17, means that there were more than 270 additional cases overall in Fraser Health over that time that had not been reported.

The overall trendline in the province remains much the same — the average number of new cases rose at a slower rate last week, possibly as a result of new regional restrictions put in place on Nov. 7. 

However, the delay between new cases and hospitalizations means that the record-high number of people in B.C. hospitals because of the virus is likely to grow, said Daniel Coombs, a University of British Columbia mathematician who has been helping the provincial government with its modelling for COVID-19.

"It's going to appear to be fairly significant," he said, adding that a rise is likely even if case counts start going down. 

"It wouldn't surprise me at all to see hospitalizations rise for a couple of weeks before plateauing." 

Wednesday's numbers come after health officials further tightened restrictions Tuesday for some fitness centres, ordering dance studios, yoga studios, gymnastics centres and other spaces offering group indoor fitness activity to temporarily suspend those activities across B.C.

Henry noted Wednesday that B.C. is implementing $230 fines for anyone who refuses to comply with an order to wear masks in indoor public and retail spaces.

"It's one of the important measures we can take, but not everyone can wear a mask," Henry noted.

She said it may not be obvious that someone has a disability that affects their ability to wear a mask, and efforts should be made to accommodate those who are unable to use face coverings. But the fine and police enforcement powers are meant to help deal with those who become belligerent when told to wear one.

"I have no time for people who believe that wearing a mask somehow makes them ill or is a sign of lack of freedom," Henry said.

With files from Justin McElroy and Roshini Nair