COVID-19 in British Columbia by the numbers
Our ongoing guide to the data in B.C. — along with caveats about what information is and isn't available
(Note: as of Sept. 10, 2021, this page and many of the charts in them will be updated less frequently, on a monthly or longer basis.)
As the COVID-19 outbreak in British Columbia continues, we've created a number of charts to help people understand the nature of the crisis, how it has developed over time and who it affects.
We've decided to put them all here as a reference, and they will be updated regularly as the government provides more data.
It's important to note there are several caveats to the information: B.C. has never provided detailed data on Sundays and stopped providing data on Saturdays starting in June 2020, for example. Beginning late December 2021, the province quickly restricted testing to people who weren't immunocompromised or unvaccinated. As time has gone on, certain metrics have mattered more than others in evaluating how "well" different jurisdictions have done in combating the virus.
But we hope these charts are helpful in your broad understanding of how COVID-19 is affecting this province.
Cases over time
Here's a look at how the outbreak has unfolded in B.C. since the first case was announced on Jan. 28, 2020. As you can see, the pandemic has unfolded in several phases:
- From late January to early March 2020 there were only a few sporadic, travel-based cases.
- From early March to mid-May 2020 B.C. had its first wave, with the number of cases rising very quickly but also dropping very quickly, before going down to around 10 a day. The province proceeded to keep transmission relatively low for several months.
- From mid-July to late November 2020 there was a general rise in cases, prompting the province to declare a "second wave," eventually making masks mandatory in mid-November and implementing a ban on group gatherings that was extended into 2021.
- From December 2020 until February 2021, cases began to stabilize and slowly fall, a few weeks after restrictions were put in place and vaccinations began on a limited basis in long-term care homes — but by March new daily cases and confirmed active cases began rising, and were spiking by April as part of a third wave. The pace of vaccinations began increasing — but not quickly enough to prevent a surge in hospitalizations.
- Beginning in the middle of April 2021, daily case counts began decreasing, to the point where active cases were lower than the beginning of the second wave. The province announced its four-stage restart strategy, lifted its state of emergency, and removed many remaining restrictions — including the mandatory mask order.
- By the end of July 2021, cases began increasing rapidly again as the Delta variant quickly accounted for nearly all cases in the province. In response to the fourth wave, the government created vaccine mandates for all workers in long-term care homes (eventually expanding it to all public service employees), before re-introducing a mask mandate, announcing people would have to show a vaccine card to access many businesses.
- Cases were on a general downward trend in B.C. from October to mid-December 2021, until the Omicron variant saw an explosion of cases in the province, more than three times the peak of previous waves, prompting the government to restrict testing and implement new restrictions yet again. As a result, daily case counts became less of a reliable indication of transmission than in the past.
To date, three vaccines have been primarily used in British Columbia: one by Pfizer-BioNTech, one by Moderna and one by AstraZeneca-Oxford, with only Pfizer and Moderna used in the third dose stage.
Shortly after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved, B.C. announced its age-based strategy for distributing the vaccine, which the federal government is delivering to provinces on a per capita basis.
In March 2021, B.C. opened clinics to the general public and the pace of vaccinations began increasing steadily, to a point where between 40,000 and 60,000 people received a shot most days between April and July, with approximately 90 per cent of all eligible British Columbians eventually receiving a first dose.
By early August 2021 the total number of doses given each day began to fall rapidly, rising again temporarily when the vaccine card was introduced, and then when children aged 5-12 became eligible for the vaccine.
As time went on, a stark regional difference in vaccination rates began to emerge, with most local health areas in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria seeing more than 90 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated, while it was less than 75 per cent in many areas in the Interior and northern B.C.
In October 2021, the B.C. government began giving third doses to long-term care and assisted living residents, announced they would be available to all people by May 2022, and began increasing its pace of additional shots at the beginning of 2022, after initially being slower than many other provinces in Canada.
4th and 5th waves
As the number of people vaccinated in B.C. grew steadily from March to June 2021, the number of daily cases, active cases and hospitalizations all fell rapidly.
But that changed in July and August, with the rolling average increasing by 1,000 per cent in just a few weeks.
Officials attributed it to the same reason cases had quickly risen in several other countries with highly vaccinated populations — the highly transmissible Delta variant, which after a few months of being kept under control in B.C., quickly become the dominant strain.
A similar situation played out in December 2021 with the Omicron variant, only in a much more compressed timeline, with B.C. going from virtually no Omicron cases to more than 80 per cent of all cases in a matter of weeks. While the percentage of people who tested positive and required hospitalization was much lower than previous waves, the sheer number of cases meant that hospitalizations rapidly went up — although critical cases and deaths were lower.
The province also released data showing the percentage of people that required hospitalization by age, vaccine status, and health conditions, as part of their explanation for why further restrictions in the Omicron wave were not necessary.
Cases by region
The province releases cases by health region on a daily basis. B.C. has five health regions:
- Island Health (for Vancouver Island)
- Vancouver Coastal Health (an area comprising Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore, and communities along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Sunshine Coast and B.C.'s Central Coast)
- Fraser Health (the Fraser Valley and areas of Metro Vancouver not in Vancouver Coastal Health)
- Interior Health (generally anything in B.C.'s Interior, south of Williams Lake)
- Northern Health (generally anything in B.C. from Quesnel north)
Originally, the province said the reason for not releasing more specific geographic data came down to privacy issues.
"We're now at the place where it's irrelevant what community you're in. The risk of this virus is everywhere in British Columbia, everywhere in Canada," said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
When B.C.'s cases started to rapidly escalate in October 2020, they were centred in the Fraser Health region, which remained the biggest area of transmission in the province for months to come.
Beginning in late August 2020, the government began releasing monthly data on each of B.C.'s 89 local health areas. These releases became weekly in December 2020.
Two areas in the Lower Mainland with the highest per capita transmission have been Surrey and Abbotsford, with approximately 8.5 per cent and 7.9 per cent respectively of the entire population in the regions being infected by November 2021.
In March and April 2021, transmission of the virus was high enough in Prince Rupert and Whistler that mass vaccination clinics were set up for those entire communities, which saw sharp decreases in transmission shortly after.
Cases by age
For several months in the first wave, the numbers showed the majority of positive cases were in people over the age of 50, with 96 per cent of deaths occurring among people over the age of 60.
That wasn't unique to B.C., but from the summer of 2020 onwards, the number of cases in people under the age of 50 — particularly people between 20 and 40 years old — became the majority of cases each week, to the point where they now make up more than two-thirds of cases.
In early April 2021, as cases among all age groups spiked, Premier John Horgan said, "the cohort from 20-39 are ... putting the rest of us in a challenging position," and asked them to "not blow this for the rest of us". In the months after, the number of cases in people 20 to 39 did not proportionally rise, but the number of cases in people under 20 did.
'Ahead' of the 'curve' — and then flattening it
Different health authorities around the world release COVID-19 cases in different ways, and because different countries test less or more often per capita than others, it was hard in the early days of the outbreak to be definitive on whether any place was "behind" or "ahead" of the curve than others.
B.C. was able to contain its initial outbreak at a relatively early stage. But the province's success was only able to be truly seen in the weeks and months afterward, when the number of COVID-19-related deaths in the province, adjusted for population, was consistently the lowest or second lowest of any province, U.S. state or country in western Europe with at least five million people.
The government releases data on total hospitalizations at any one time, along with the number of people requiring intensive care — but does not count people as hospitalized once they are no longer showing symptoms of the virus, even if that was the original reason they were admitted.
With those caveats, hospitalizations in B.C. rose to more than 100 in the first wave, but stopped going up in early April 2020 and slowly fell through the summer of 2020.
Those figures, even when adjusted for population, show clearly that B.C. was able to keep the virus relatively in check during March and April 2020 — helping to ensure people in hospitals were given proper care, potentially reducing deaths — while cases surged in Canada's two largest provinces.
It was a different story in future waves of the pandemic, however, as hospitals felt the strain of more than 300 people in the hospital for months at a time. In the third wave B.C. rose to record numbers of people in critical care, forcing the postponement of surgeries, with similar postponements in the the fourth and fifth.
While this increase in hospitalizations happened despite more than 80 per cent of eligible British Columbians having at least once vaccine dose, when adjusted for age the data showed a massive difference in hospitalizations and ICU rates depending on vaccination status.
In addition, the province released data for hospitalizations in December 2021 and January 2022 that showed a majority of Omicron hospitalizations were from people who were initially admitted to the hospital for a reason other than the virus — a difference from the previous Delta wave.
One area where the province has regularly changed its policy on releasing data is care homes.
The government has treated any positive case at any care home as an outbreak, whether it comes from a patient or a staff member. After releasing information on all care homes on a daily basis from April to October 2020, the government stopped entirely in October, giving various reasons for doing so. In early January, they announced they would be providing that data again weekly.
From late December 2020 to early February 2021, approximately 91 per cent of the province's 34,217 residents of long-term care homes received the vaccine, and the number of cases and deaths in LTCs dramatically dropped shortly after, and have been stable for months.
As of December 2021, more than 1,200 COVID-19 deaths in B.C. have been in care homes, assisted-living or independent seniors' facilities. During the surge in care-home fatalities in late 2020 and early 2021, they represented more than two-thirds of all fatalities in the pandemic, but today make up less than half.
B.C. was initially one of the leaders in the world for the number of COVID-19 tests given — but that changed as time has gone on, and other countries dramatically ramped up their testing.
In the second and third waves, the number of tests given per day rose to between 8,000 and 15,000 each day, a rate below most other provinces on a per-capita basis.
The difference in tests on any day means the rolling average of positive tests has become more important to understanding whether B.C. has had a "good" or "bad" week in containing the pandemic.
That number was as high as four per cent in the early days of the pandemic, before falling to less than one per cent for most of June 2020. By November 2020, the positivity rate across B.C. had eclipsed five per cent, where it remained for months — going above 10 per cent during the third wave — before falling consistently throughout May and June 2021.
However, it once again rose in the fourth wave, and then spiked to an unseen level of more than 20 per cent during the Omicron wave.
- An earlier version of this story misstated the boundary between Interior and Northern Health.Apr 07, 2020 4:36 PM PT