B.C. has confirmed another 1,959 cases of COVID-19 over the last three days and nine more deaths from the disease as the number of patients in hospital continues to reach record highs.
As of Monday, there are 181 patients in hospital with COVID-19, including 57 in critical care, out of 6,279 active cases of the novel coronavirus across B.C., Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. The numbers reported Monday represent the largest weekend total for new cases to date.
The vast majority continue to be in the Lower Mainland, with 1,361 or 69 per cent of the new cases in the Fraser Health region, and 455 or 23 per cent in Vancouver Coastal Health. People who live in those regions are currently subject to strict public health orders that include a prohibition on socializing with anyone outside of their household.
Henry expressed worry about the rising caseload and urged British Columbians to focus on preventing transmission of the virus.
"This is a challenging time. Getting through the surge of new cases and through this pandemic requires all of us to go back to thinking about the important things we need to do to support each other," she said.
But she also struck a tone of encouragement, saying, "People in British Columbia continue to show unwavering resilience and adaptability."
To date, B.C. has recorded 22,944 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 299 people who have died. Public health workers are now actively monitoring 10,928 people who have been in contact with known cases.
Monday's update also includes 11 new outbreaks in health-care settings, bringing the number of active outbreaks to 45 in long-term care and assisted living and seven in acute care units of hospitals.
Henry took time during her briefing on Monday to address growing calls for mandatory masks in indoor public spaces, saying that masks are already part of the provincially mandated safety plans of many businesses.
"Wearing masks is now, more than ever, an important measure that we individually need to take," she said.
But she pointed out that transmission right now is largely driven by social gatherings in private spaces like people's homes, places where a mask mandate would not have an effect.
Henry urged everyone to pull back on socializing, shrinking their bubbles back to where they were in the early days of the pandemic. For people in the epicentre of the pandemic's second wave, in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, that means no social gatherings at all.
"We're in a much different place than April, but we need to be thinking about the same vibe as we did in April," Henry said.
She also applauded the encouraging news of a second potential vaccine candidate with apparently high effectiveness.
"I'm confident by this time next year we'll have vaccine available for everyone," she said.
Halfway through restriction period
Halting the spread of the virus in private group settings is at the heart of B.C.'s stringent restrictions for the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions, which have now been in effect for a week.
Henry introduced the new public health orders on Nov. 5 and said they would be in effect until Monday, Nov. 23 at noon.
The new restrictions are focused on social gatherings, travel, indoor group exercise and workplaces.
The following restrictions apply for residents of the affected regions:
Refrain from travelling in and out of the regions unless essential.
Weddings and funerals can proceed, as long as they include only immediate household members.
Businesses and recreation centres with indoor group physical activities have been closed.
Workplaces must ensure physical distancing, especially in break rooms and kitchens.
The province clarified after the orders were issued that going for a walk with someone outside your core bubble or household is allowed; parents are allowed to carpool kids to and from school; and grandparents are allowed to provide child care.
Read more about the restrictions here.
Henry said Monday that she can't say yet what Christmas and other December holidays will look like in B.C., or whether it will be safe to have small family gatherings. For now, if there's any hope of having a more social celebration, she says the focus will be on sticking to your household for those within Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions and maintaining a "safe six" social bubble for everyone else.
School closures in Fraser Health
Over the weekend, Fraser Health announced that three schools in the region would be closed for two weeks due to COVID-19 cases.
Cambridge Elementary School in Surrey, Jarvis Elementary School in Delta and Al-Hidayah School in New Westminster have all been forced to close their doors.
There have been seven cases at Cambridge elementary, which Fraser Health has classified as an outbreak. Jarvis elementary has seen six cases, while Al-Hidayah School has seen eight. These are being described as clusters.
Read more about the closures here.
Last week, Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix also presented B.C. latest epidemiological modelling on the coronavirus. It showed that COVID-19 cases in B.C. are doubling every 13 days.
Over the past two weeks, cases have been intensely focused in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions. The latest data shows that the reproductive number for those two health authorities is currently above one — meaning each case is leading to more than one new case.
Henry said the recent surge in cases has put a strain on contact tracing efforts.
You can read more about the latest COVID-19 modelling here.