British Columbia

B.C.'s active COVID-19 cases outside the Lower Mainland nearly in single digits

There’s often a big difference in British Columbia between the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province — and it has become the same in terms of active COVID-19 cases.

However, it’s unlikely there’s going to be a change in the province-wide restart approach

While the number of active COVID-19 cases is still in the hundreds in the Lower Mainland, it's nearly in single digits in rest of British Columbia. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

There's often a big difference in British Columbia between the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province — and it has become the same in terms of active COVID-19 cases.

In the three health regions outside the Lower Mainland — Interior, Northern, and Island Health — there are now just 14 active cases of the virus in total — six in Northern Health, five in Island Health and three in Interior Health — even with more than 5,500 tests conducted in those areas over the past week.

That's compared to 270 active cases in Fraser Health and 113 in Vancouver Coastal Health. It's a big change from the beginning of April, when there were 187 active cases in the Fraser Health Authority, 105 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), and 143 cases in the rest of the province.

With the potential of the virus being virtually contained in large areas of B.C. well before its most populated area, some politicians are calling for the government to consider regional approaches in the province's restart strategy.

"We're kind of used to policies that are created that are really effective within 100 miles of the 49th parallel, and then after that you have to work around them," said Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman.

"There's a lot of frustration here about not being able to get out … we have short summers up here."

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Little desire to accelerate 

Because B.C. has only released COVID-19 cases on a health authority-wide level, there has been debate in many municipalities over whether the virus is circulating within their community.

Nelson Coun. Rik Logtenberg said a regional approach might have merit if certain health regions get to zero active cases, but said there's been minimal pushback in Nelson so far to the current guidelines.

"We've definitely had a number of people [pushing for a faster opening] … but in general I would say people understand that the reason why we have so few cases is because of the social distancing," he said.

The success in decreasing cases is one reason local politicians aren't clamouring for a more aggressive timeline. Another reason is the nervousness that came during the April long weekend, when a small but noticeable increase of travellers brought a push for tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in smaller communities.

"There was a lot of anxiety going into that, but I think now that it's come out showing that there wasn't really any community outbreak … it's calmed down," said Revelstoke Coun. Cody Younker.

Younker said that there has been a small uptick in the number of cars with Alberta license plates driving through town — "red plates as we call them" — but people have become less nervous because of the success of B.C.'s approach.

"The mood is definitely shifted. People are a lot more calmer than they were around Easter," he said.

Be a tourist in your own province?

While there's little pressure to speed up the restart timeline in parts of the province with low COVID-19 totals, there are worries about what could happen in many communities if the tourism sector completely disappears.

"International tourism is not going to be encouraged until there's a vaccine … and we are a tourism-based economy for a lot of the year," said Younker.

He said Revelstoke's tourism agency was adapting its strategy in the hope of attracting visitors from within B.C. and Alberta should restrictions loosen over the summertime.

If the number of COVID-19 cases continues to lower and the government eases guidelines on inter-provincial travel, it's an approach many municipalities will likely consider.

"Ultimately, I think most of us hope to see the ability for people in B.C. to travel around and have vacations this year," said Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne.

She said that many business owners were considering a first step of limiting customers to people on Vancouver Island only.

But she believes the province does need to move forward as one.

"Being able to move together is something that's really important to the people here," Osborne said.

"We're not quite ready yet … it looks like it won't be at least until June that we're able to welcome visitors back, we're really look forward to it."