COVID-19 surges in Howe Sound region as 997 new cases confirmed in B.C.
1% of total population in Howe Sound local health area, which includes Whistler, tested positive last week
B.C. health officials announced 997 new cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths on Wednesday.
In a written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix put the number of hospitalized patients at 330, 105 of whom are in intensive care.
A total of 1,491 people in B.C. have lost their lives due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
There are currently 8,728 active cases of coronavirus in the province, with public health monitoring 14,602 people across B.C. who are in self-isolation due to COVID-19 exposure. More than 96,626 people who tested positive have recovered.
So far, 946,096 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, with 87,504 of those being second doses. As of Wednesday, almost 20 per cent of those who are eligible for a vaccine in B.C. have had their shot.
The province said that there are currently 3,766 confirmed COVID-19 cases that are variants of concern. Of the total cases, 266 are active and the remaining people have recovered. This includes 2,837 cases of the B117 (U.K.) variant, 878 cases of the P1 (Brazil) variant and 51 cases of the B1351 (South Africa) variant.
Variants a growing concern
Henry said Tuesday that the B117 variant appears to have the "competitive advantage" in this province. The major concern, she said, is whether the vaccines are still effective against this variant, and so far they seem to be working.
Henry said she expects the province to catch up to Ontario in terms of the proportion of COVID-19 cases from the B117 variant. Currently, B117 accounts for about one-third of B.C.'s cases, while the strain represents about 60 per cent of Ontario's cases, but Henry expects B.C. to match that figure in about a month.
There have also been growing numbers of cases involving the P1 variant first identified in Brazil, including clusters in Whistler and the Lower Mainland.
Last week, 410 people in the Howe Sound local health region, which includes Whistler, tested positive for COVID-19 — exactly one per cent of that region's population.
Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott said that while most cases in the region are currently associated with Whistler, the small communities that dot the health region are highly connected, creating a high potential for further spread.
"The cases are not just staying with young people in Whistler — they're spreading into families and whole families are contracting COVID-19," she said.
Elliott said the region's first responders and rescue teams have not been vaccinated, and that people who do not live in the region should not travel to the area's mountains.
"We're asking people to really stay close to home and not plan weekend visits to the Sea to Sky corridor right now. This is not the time," she said, adding that the region's population skews younger and that group is not a priority for vaccination.
Henry said much of the growing transmission that B.C. has seen in recent weeks, for all novel coronavirus cases, can be linked to younger patients, who are increasingly ending up in intensive care.
According to Dix, the median age for people infected with the P1 variant is 30, and it's 35 for all variants of concern.
B.C. is currently screening about 90 per cent of confirmed cases for variants of concern, according to Henry.
"Unnecessary travel and social gatherings are fuelling the fire for the variants of concern," Henry said Tuesday.
Online vaccine booking opens
B.C.'s online registration system for COVID-19 vaccine appointments opened to eligible adults on Tuesday morning, as the province overhauls its current program for making bookings.
The new "Get Vaccinated" system was made available at 8 a.m. PT. People who are 70 and older — those born in 1951 or earlier — and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are now able to register online to book their appointment, as are Indigenous people who are 18 and older.
Residents can register online when it is their turn and receive a confirmation code. They will then wait for an email, text or call telling them they are eligible and can then book their vaccine appointment.
The new provincial website is available in 12 languages.
With files from Rafferty Baker