British Columbia

Data experts say 6th wave of COVID-19 not yet in B.C., but urge caution as cases expected to rise

Experts say while a sixth wave in the province is unlikely in the immediate future, masks and vaccines are important as the virus still poses a risk.

Layers of protection like vaccines and masks should still be used, according to experts

Experts say a sixth wave of COVID-19 is not imminent in B.C., but urge people to ensure they are fully vaccinated and continue wearing masks. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As Ontario and Quebec declare a sixth wave of COVID-19, experts say B.C. will probably not see a new wave in the near future. However, they caution that we still need to use layers of protection, including masks and vaccines. 

Daniel Coombs, a math professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in disease modelling and epidemiology, said a sudden surge in cases is unlikely to happen at the moment. 

"I don't think any of us are predicting a very big wave at this point, nothing like what we saw around Christmas," he said in an interview. 

Coombs said the number of hospitalizations, which had been decreasing, appears to have levelled off over the past week.

He predicts cases will rise slightly as public health restrictions ease, but he does not foresee a steep increase in cases anytime soon. 

"I don't think it's a time to panic at this point and to see rapid changes in public health policy," he said. 

Experts continue to urge caution

Horacio Bach, an assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at UBC, also said a sixth wave is unlikely to happen soon, noting the number of hospitalizations in B.C. is not growing as rapidly as Ontario and Quebec. 

However, as immunity from vaccines fades over time, Bach said people still need to be careful. 

"The level of antibodies after six months of your last dose starts to go down very fast," Bach said in an interview. 

While Bach said a sixth wave is not likely in the immediate future, he emphasized that the pandemic is ongoing and could change course at any moment. He expects cases to increase somewhat due to mask mandates being lifted. 

"Although [another wave] can happen at any time … we still have the virus," Bach said. 

Bach recommends continuing to use masks, avoiding crowds, and spending time in ventilated areas whenever possible. 

BA.2 subvariant in B.C.

Caroline Colijn, a COVID-19 modeller at Simon Fraser University, believes B.C. will see a sixth wave, but not yet. 

"I think we have often been somewhat behind Ontario and we have similar things going on. We have BA.2, we've reopened, we've gone back to school, we're dropping mask mandates," Colijn said in an interview on CBC's The Early Edition

She said the amount of COVID-19 detected in wastewater has reached a plateau over the last few weeks.

A group of people walk alongside a train in a subway. Some of them are wearing facemasks and others are not.
B.C. lifted most of its COVID-19 public health restrictions earlier this month. B.C.'s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender has written a letter to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry calling for the return of mask mandates.  (Ben Nelms/CBC)

However, with the spread of the more contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 in combination with B.C.'s easing of restrictions, Colijn expects cases to rise. 

"We know BA.2 … is here and probably is going to be the majority of COVID soon or is already," said Colijn. 

B.C.'s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender wrote a letter to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry calling for the return of mask mandates. 

Govender said in an interview with Robyn Burns on CBC's All Points West that the inconvenience of mandating masks must be weighed against the dangers of not mandating masks, particularly for those who are immunocompromised. 

"I think we have to keep our gaze focused on who is the most vulnerable among us, whose rights are most at stake here," said Govender. 

Govender said lifting the mask mandate not only poses a health risk to immunocompromised people, but it further isolates them from accessing spaces where masks are no longer mandated. 

"There will be a day where we don't have to wear masks anymore, but that day is not here yet," said Govender. 

Govender said she has not yet received a response from the Ministry of Health. 

With files from Baneet Braich, The Early Edition, and All Points West