British Columbia

New cases slowly declining in B.C. as pandemic 'stabilizes,' modelling group finds

An independent modelling group says it believes the pandemic is "largely stable" in B.C., with cases declining and expected to continue to do so in the coming weeks.

Average number of daily cases still high but falling by around 2% each day, researchers say

A pedestrian passing a restaurant in Vancouver on Oct. 4. The COVID-19 Modelling Group said B.C. could be at risk for another uptick in cases if the public stops wearing masks, or if another new variant emerges. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

An independent modelling group says it believes the pandemic is "largely stable" in B.C., with cases declining and expected to continue to do so in the coming weeks.

In a report published Wednesday, the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group said case rates are declining at a rate of about two per cent each day. It said the mask mandate and regional public health restrictions, like those introduced in northern parts of the province, helped stabilize cases.

"What we're seeing across all health authorities is a really good signal the curve is bending down," said Sally Otto, a co-author of the report and evolutionary biology professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC). 

The modelling group, which includes experts from UBC, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, expects cases in the province to decline as the recently vaccinated build immunity over the next three weeks. The forecast includes the stricken Northern Health Authority region, which has seen its hospitals become overloaded in recent weeks.

Researchers also found the surge in cases among children under 12 has "largely reversed" since September. 

"We're still seeing infections in kids at a higher rate than the rest of the population, but [the rates] are almost equivalent now," Otto said in an interview Wednesday.

"It's very reassuring ... a really good sign."

The modelling warned daily case counts, while stable, are still trending high: the province has averaged 628 new cases every day in October. Vaccination rates have also slowed after spiking with the news and enforcement of B.C.'s vaccine card in September.

The group said B.C. could be at risk for another uptick in cases if the public stops wearing masks, or if another new variant emerges. Experts also said seasonal factors, like people spending more time inside as the weather worsens, could also create a risk.

More vaccinations would reduce that threat, they said. The group found communities with 95 per cent vaccination are four times less likely to have a case than those areas with only 75 per cent vaccination.

3rd doses being made available

The province announced Tuesday every British Columbian will have access to a third dose of vaccine in the coming months. 

People who are immunocompromised, those in long-term care and assisted living and rural and remote First Nations communities will be the priority for the third dose program, but all British Columbians should have access by next May.

A plan to start vaccinating children between five and 11 is also expected to begin, pending Health Canada approval.

As of Tuesday, 89 per cent of eligible people have received their first dose of vaccine, while 84.5 per cent have had a second dose. 

The province announced 457 new cases on Tuesday. Hospitalizations were up 2.1 per cent from last week and nearly 29 per cent from a month ago.

With files from Yvette Brend

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