British Columbia

B.C. health officials say province could hit 2,000 COVID-19 cases a day if interactions not limited

B.C. could see up to 2,000 new COVID-19 cases a day by next month if the number of contacts per person is not reduced, according to new epidemiological modelling presented by the province on Thursday.

The number of hospitalizations due to the virus has hit record highs

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., on Saturday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

B.C. could see up to 2,000 new COVID-19 cases a day by next month if the number of contacts per person is not reduced, according to new epidemiological modelling presented by the province on Thursday.

The data is being presented as B.C. records 1,205 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths. This week, B.C. hit record high hospitalizations, with 409 people currently in hospital and 125 people in intensive care.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a news conference that cases in the province began to climb in March during the week of spring break, as the presence of highly infectious variants of concern was met with an uptick in travel and an increase in social interactions.

She said that while deaths in B.C. have levelled off and decreased, case counts are up among people aged 19 to 39 and 40 to 59, with clusters connected to workplaces and social interactions.

"We're seeing that with the variants in particular. Transmission can be widespread in households," said Henry.

"Hospitalization is now being driven by people between the ages of 40 and 79 and that's why it's so important that we continue to focus our age-based vaccination program."

Henry said the reproductive number for the virus has been above one all across the province "for some time." 

"The rate of infectious contacts is somewhere around 50 to 60 per cent. That is too high. We need to get down to 40 per cent or less. We did that last March and we did that in November," she said.

"We have felt that need to have those social interactions again, but we need to pay attention again."

Henry also discouraged outdoor gatherings with people outside of one's own household — though outdoor gatherings with up to 10 people are currently allowed under B.C.'s health restrictions.

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"Even if we can see people outside of our household, we shouldn't. Outside is lower risk, it's not zero, but it's lower risk," she said.

"If you're going to be in close contact, wear a mask, even if it is outside ... Risk is not zero if you're sitting on a patio, but the risk is less."

70 per cent of P1 variant cases in VCH

Henry said B.C. likely has the largest proportion of COVID-19 cases involving the variant first identified in Brazil, but that's partly because it is testing more for that strain.

The Vancouver Coastal health region is leading all other health authorities with about 70 per cent of P1 variant cases because of a large number of cases linked to the resort town of Whistler.

She said that overall, just under 60 per cent of daily cases involve variants, including the one first associated with South Africa, though those cases are negligible compared with P1 and the variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

Trudeau, Horgan hint at travel restrictions

As the third wave of the pandemic rages, and health officials race to get British Columbians vaccinated, Premier John Horgan told reporters Tuesday that Henry could announce further restrictions to try to curtail virus transmission.

The premier said provincial cabinet members would likely examine the status of bookings for hotels, bed and breakfasts and camping sites Wednesday to help inform restriction decisions.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told CBC Radio he's supportive of provinces and territories closing their borders in order to protect their residents from the spread of COVID-19.

Data presented by the province showed that while the largest proportion of workplace clusters in the Vancouver Coastal Health region were in restaurants and bars, the largest proportion of those recorded in the Fraser Health authority were in the industrial and manufacturing sector.

Henry also presented data on school exposures, reporting that when transmission did occur in school, it generally led to one or two additional cases in the school.

She said, in most cases, transmission in schools originated outside of the school setting, and that schools are not a driver of cases in the community.

"When transmission occurs, it is a very disruptive event," she said. "That's why school staff have been prioritized for immunization; we will work through all school staff throughout the province over the next few weeks." 

Adults 55 and up urged to book vaccine appointment

As of Thursday, 1.2 million doses of vaccine — about 26 per cent of the eligible population, according to the health minister — had been administered in the province. 

Approximately 45,000 people received a vaccine in B.C. on Wednesday, the highest one day total since vaccinations began in December. The numbers show that over the past week, B.C. has been vaccinating around one per cent of eligible adults each day.

B.C. is currently vaccinating all eligible adults in transmission hot spots like Whistler and Prince Rupert, while the provincewide age-based program rolls on.

Henry said out of  those who have received one dose of the vaccine, around 0.07 per cent, or about 400 people, tested positive for COVID-19 after 14 days, adding it may be an overestimate as some people may have been in the incubation period for the virus before receiving their dose.

She said she was not aware of any deaths among people who were immunized and then contracted COVID-19. One person in long-term care who was over 100 years of age and was vaccinated died, she said, but did not have COVID. 

Everyone over the age of 55 is now eligible to receive a vaccine.

The province on Monday announced dates for those aged 40 and older to register:

  • Monday, April 12 — born 1966 or earlier (age 55+)
  • Wednesday, April 14 — born 1971 or earlier (50+)
  • Friday, April 16 — born 1976 or earlier (45+)
  • Monday, April 19 — born 1981 or earlier (40+)

Registering for a vaccine is not the same as booking the appointment to get your shot. Once registered, users receive a confirmation code, followed by an email, a text or a call telling them when they're eligible to use the code to make an appointment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Ghoussoub

@MichelleGhsoub

Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. She has previously reported in Lebanon and Chile. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.

With files from the Canadian Press

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