The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 continues to rise in B.C., as health officials announced 16 more deaths from the disease and 1,785 new cases over the last three days.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided the first update on the pandemic since Friday, revealing that the number of patients in hospital with the novel coronavirus is now at 303, including 80 people who are in critical condition. This marks the first time since Jan. 27 that the province's hospitalization numbers have surpassed 300.
There are now 5,290 active cases of the virus across the province, the highest total since Jan.10.
Henry expressed concern about the rising numbers but did not give a clear answer about whether B.C. has hit its third wave of the pandemic.
"People ask if we're in our third wave," she said. "We've come down from the peak of our second wave but we have levelled out for many weeks now and it's a slow and steady increase."
Henry urged everyone to make sure any gatherings are held outdoors, in physically distanced groups of 10 or fewer.
"When we're inside, we let our guard down," Henry said. "Indoor gatherings of any size continue to be a risk. The only safe place to gather right now is outside."
Of the new deaths announced Monday, one is a historical death that has since been reclassified, Henry said. To date, 1,437 people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, out of 92,571 confirmed cases to date.
Meanwhile, the province has confirmed another 166 cases of variants of concern, bringing the total to date to 1,366. Most of these continue to be the B117 variant first identified in the U.K.
"Variants of concern are moving quickly. To counter that, we need to continue to be slow and steady and to find our balance," Henry said.
However, she said that the variants do not appear to be driving transmission of the disease as they have in other parts of the world.
She also noted that younger people are now ending up in hospital because of COVID-19, and some people in their 30s and 40s are suffering severe illness.
So far, a total of 539,408 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, including 87,161 second doses. Henry said that to date, 497 adverse effects from those vaccines have been recorded, 50 of which were allergic reactions, but overall, the benefits of getting the shot "far outweigh" the risks of COVID-19.
Widespread vaccination within long-term care homes seems to have cut down on outbreaks in those facilities. There were no new outbreaks recorded in health-care facilities over the weekend, and there are now only four active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living, though there are currently seven in hospitals.
Health Minister Adrian Dix stressed that while the vaccines are helping, it's still not safe to resume normal life.
"Vaccines provide us with a great deal of hope, but orders are still in place," he said. "If you are thinking of going to a birthday celebration, do not go right now."
Henry and Dix said that no plans should be made for large gatherings like weddings for the near future and any such plans should be pushed to summer at the earliest.