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
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, for example. 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. As you can see, the pandemic has unfolded in several phases:
- From late January to early March there were only a few sporadic, travel-based cases.
- From early March to mid-May the number of cases rose very quickly, before going down to around 10 a day.
- From mid-May to mid-July the number of daily new cases, deaths and hospitalizations remained relatively flat.
- From mid-July to the end of September there was a rise in active cases and daily cases, with numbers higher than the first wave in March, plateauing in the final two weeks of September.
- In October the number of cases rose quickly, prompting the province to declare a "second wave," eventually making masks mandatory in mid-November and putting in a ban on group gatherings that has been extended into 2021.
- From December onwards, cases began to stabilize and slowly fall, a few weeks after restrictions were put in place and a timeline for vaccinations was announced.
The chart below includes the number of deaths, hospitalizations and new cases announced by the government each day.
To date, two vaccines have been approved for use in British Columbia: one by Pfizer-BioNTech and one by Moderna.
Shortly after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved, B.C. announced its strategy for distributing the vaccine, which the federal government is delivering to provinces on a per capita basis.
Three to four million British Columbians will likely require vaccination for the province to achieve herd immunity, but the initial distribution is expected to be slow before production ramps up and other vaccines are approved.
The province has said they expect to vaccinate 400,000 people by the end of March. In January they started giving the vaccine at a rate to meet that goal.
Cases by region
The province has been releasing cases by health region on a daily basis, and B.C. has five of them:
- 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. north of Quesnel)
The reason for not releasing geographic data more specific than that comes down to privacy issues, the province says.
"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 B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
However, the province has released recoveries by health region since April. Beginning in May, they started to release more data on a sub-health region level, showing that Richmond had by far the lowest number of cases per capita in the Lower Mainland.
When B.C.'s cases started to rapidly escalate in October, they were centred in the Fraser Health region, particularly the communities of Delta, Surrey and Langley. In December and January, those numbers fell quickly, but at the same time transmission of the virus began growing much more rapidly outside the Lower Mainland.
Beginning in late August, the government began releasing monthly data on each of B.C.'s 89 local health areas, becoming weekly in December. The two areas with the highest per capita transmission have been Surrey and the Downtown Eastside, with approximately 2.1 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively of the entire population in the regions being infected by December.
Cases by age
The province released its first set of demographics on March 21, providing the age ranges of around 90 per cent of people who had tested positive for the virus in B.C. at that point.
For several months, 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 as time went on, the number of cases in people under the age of 50 — particularly people between 20 and 40 years old — began surging, to the point where they now make up more than two-thirds of cases.
'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 is "behind" or "ahead" of the curve than others.
However, one measurement proved popular early on, showing the spread in confirmed cases within a population after it has reached the 100-case mark, using a logarithmic scale to show its exponentiality after that point.
We've charted how B.C. measured on this metric in the first three weeks of the outbreak compared to several European countries, Washington state, Ontario and Alberta.
B.C. was able to contain its 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 has also begun releasing data on total hospitalizations at any one time, along with the number of people requiring intensive care.
Those numbers originally rose to more than 100 fairly quickly, but stopped going up in early April and slowly fell as time went on. By the end of May, the number of people in critical care dropped to single digits and numbers were stable through June through mid-August, before rising over the following months, to a point where they're slightly higher than in the first wave (with overall hospitalizations triple what they were in the first wave).
As time has gone on, hospitalizations have become a more popular measurement, since people going to the hospital because of the virus isn't something that can be explained away by different testing strategies.
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 — helping to ensure people in hospitals were given proper care, potentially reducing deaths — while cases surged in Canada's two largest provinces.
In early September, after months of rising case counts, the province unveiled its plan to deal with a potential surge of hospitalizations in the fall and winter.
Hospitalizations originally rose quite slowly in the second wave, but that was primarily due to most of the new cases being concentrated among younger people.
That changed by late October as the virus began to infect more people 70 and older. Total hospitalizations have stabilized since mid-December at around 350 at any given time and began falling in the second half of January.
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, 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.
In the first wave, only the Lynn Valley, Haro Park, Royal Arch Masonic, Langley Lodge, and Holy Family Hospital centres saw widespread community transmission, and all except the Holy Family Hospital were declared over by early July.
The second wave began in November, but there were many more major outbreaks, including Vancouver's German-Canadian Care Home, Little Mountain Place — which has had the most deaths of any care home, with 41 — Burnaby's Agecare Harmony Court, West Vancouver's Capilano Centre and Abbotsford's Tabor Village.
As of early January, more than 600 COVID-19 deaths in B.C. have been in care homes, assisted living homes or independent living homes, representing just under two-thirds of the province's total virus-related deaths.
The fall surge
After two months of remarkably stable numbers, B.C.'s case counts tripled in July, tripled in August, and tripled again in October, to the point where the province was seeing 500 cases a day or more by November.
The province originally defended its approach to containing the pandemic and didn't make many changes to its policies — but in early August announced it would be hiring 500 people to oversee contact tracing, and allowed police to fine people $2,000 for hosting large events violating public health orders. By mid-September, more than 3,000 people were under active health monitoring, with the number rising to more than 10,000 in November.
As cases continued to rise, the government banned banquet halls and nightclubs from operating in September, and put restrictions on events in private homes in October.
By November, the difference in transmission rates between the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province was so vast — "a tale of two pandemics", as Adrian Dix once called it — that the province enacted special restrictions for the most populated region of B.C., and strongly urged people to avoid non-essential travel.
In mid-November, a host of public health orders were enacted across the province, including mandatory masks in indoor public and retail spaces and restricting social gatherings to household members only, due to numbers dramatically increasing in all parts of B.C. Those were extended for a second month in December, and then for a third month in early January.
B.C. was initially one of the leaders in the world for the number of COVID-19 tests given — but that's changed as time has gone on, and other countries have dramatically ramped up their testing.
As a result, B.C. went from testing around 2,000 people a day in the latter half of March to around 1,000 people a day for most of April, before it increased after province said anyone who had symptoms could get a test, instead of being asked to self-isolate if they're lower risk.
By late July, as the number of cases rose, the number of tests rose to as many as 10,000 a day, a rate still below most other provinces on a per capita basis.
However, the difference in tests on any day — a gap of around 2,500 between the highest and lowest days of the week — means the rate 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. But by November, the positivity rate across B.C. had eclipsed five per cent, where it has remained since.
- An earlier version of this story misstated the boundary between Interior and Northern Health.Apr 07, 2020 4:36 PM PT