British Columbia

COVID-19 cases in B.C. are up — but 78 per cent of new cases are among unvaccinated people

COVID-19 cases in B.C. are up, with the seven-day rolling average of new cases and active cases at the highest levels they've been in two weeks — but health officials and modelling experts say the majority of those cases are among unvaccinated people.

Province, health experts say increase in cases in line with projections as restrictions ease

People are pictured waiting in line outside of Canada Place for their COVID-19 vaccination in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday June 21, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

COVID-19 cases in B.C. are up, with the seven-day rolling average of new and active cases at the highest levels they've been in two weeks. On Thursday, the province announced 89 new cases of COVID-19 — the highest one-day total in a month.

But health officials and modelling experts maintain the province is on track to fully reopen in September, saying the majority of those cases are among unvaccinated people, and that the increase was predicted as the province loosens restrictions on movement and social gatherings.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said on Friday that 78 per cent of new cases recorded between June 15 and July 15 were among unvaccinated people. Eighteen per cent were among people who had received one dose, while four per cent were among people who had been fully vaccinated. 

University of British Columbia evolutionary biology professor Sally Otto said B.C. needs to remain "on watch" as cases tick upwards — but that increasing vaccination rates in the community remains the most important tool to keep cases low.

Otto said the highest number of new cases are currently in the Interior Health region — an area of the province where vaccination efforts are lagging slightly. So far, 80 per cent of all eligible residents 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose and 57 per cent have received a second dose. 

"We are seeing in British Columbia an uptick in cases with an unknown source and I think that's because more of the transmission events are happening from vaccinated people who have no symptoms," she said.

The majority of restrictions on life in B.C. have been eased for weeks. On July 1, the province moved into Step 3 of its phased reopening plan, making mask and face coverings recommended rather than required and removed all restrictions on personal gatherings both indoors and outdoors. Visits to long-term care homes returned to normal on Tuesday, provided visitors have had two doses of vaccine.

B.C. could move to Step 4 by Sept. 7 which would allow for offices to operate normally and for events like concerts and sports games to welcome back crowds.

"I think we're still on course to be able to announce significant changes to health measures by Labour Day," said Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre.

"We will get more cases as people interact with each other. The key here is to identify them quickly and to interrupt them. And at this level, we're still able to count all their cases and monitor their impact."

Delta variant circulating in B.C.

Among the biggest unknowns for the future of the pandemic remains the highly transmissible delta variant now circulating in Canada — though a recent study has shown that two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-Oxford's COVID-19 vaccines are nearly as effective against the delta coronavirus variant as they are against the previously dominant alpha variant.

Dix said around 25 per cent of cases in the Interior Health region are the delta variant, with most occurring among people aged 20 to 40.

Around 34 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 in B.C. are fully vaccinated — though a majority of people in that age group only became eligible to book a second dose within the past few days as part of the province's age-based vaccine rollout.

Conway said while he believes the province will fully reopen by the fall, people should frame this phase of the pandemic not as the end, but "the end of the beginning."

"My biggest concern is that people are thinking 'I just need to do this for five more weeks and then I'm back to normal,'" he said.

"As they see the numbers increase, they say 'this is no good' —  well, this is the new normal. There will be COVID cases and most experts are predicting a more significant bump in the fall as it gets cooler [...] As we see the number of cases go up and down, let's not worry until we see uncontrolled community based spread and we're not anywhere near that at this point." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Ghoussoub

Reporter, CBC News

Michelle Ghoussoub is a television, radio and digital reporter with CBC News in Vancouver. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.

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