B.C.'s COVID-19 caseload continues to spike, as health officials announced 800 new cases of COVID-19 and five more deaths on Thursday.
It's the highest single-day total for cases so far this year — B.C. hasn't seen numbers above 800 since Dec. 2. The rolling seven-day average of new cases is now up 25 per cent over the last eight days.
In a written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix put the number of hospitalized patients at 306 people, 79 of whom are in intensive care.
There are currently 5,856 active cases of coronavirus in the province, the highest total since Jan. 8.
The news comes just hours after provincial officials loosened restrictions for visitors to long-term care homes and made temporary allowances for indoor religious services.
"While this is encouraging news, in parallel we have also seen a notable spike in the number of new cases, especially amongst those 19 to 39 years of age. This tells us some people are taking on more risk for themselves and their loved ones than what is safe right now," Henry and Dix said in the written statement.
"We remind everyone that although some outside activities are allowed, we must keep going with our protective layers."
The vast majority of the new cases announced Thursday are located in the Lower Mainland — about 80 per cent were in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions.
Another 191 cases of variants of concern have been identified, bringing the total in B.C. to date to 1,772 cases. That includes 1,549 cases of the variant first seen in the U.K., 176 cases of the variant first seen in Brazil and 47 of the variant first seen in South Africa.
Public health monitoring is now monitoring 9,964 people across B.C. who are in self-isolation because of COVID-19 exposure.
A total of 87,351 people who tested positive for the virus have recovered, while 1,446 people in B.C. have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
B.C. recorded one new outbreak at Chilliwack General Hospital.
So far, 610,671 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, with 87,212 of those being second doses. Vaccine appointments are now being booked for those over the age of 75, as well as Indigenous people over the age of 55.
Watch: Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about why B.C. is easing restrictions
Restrictions eased for long-term care visits, religious services
Earlier Thursday, the province announced residents in B.C.'s long-term care facilities will soon be allowed more visitors and will be given the freedom to hug their loved ones.
New guidelines, which take effect April 1, will eliminate the requirement for a resident to have a single designated social visitor. Residents will be allowed up to two visitors at a time, as well as a child.
The province also announced it will allow a limited number of indoor religious services over a six-week period this spring.
Private indoor gatherings are still banned under public health guidelines. Effective immediately, the B.C. government has more than doubled the fine from $230 to $575 for promoting or attending a non-compliant gathering or event.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Interior Health authority said it's planning to vaccinate all adults across 61 rural communities within its jurisdiction by the end of July.
Tap the link below to hear Interior Health chief medical health officer Dr. Albert de Villiers's interview on Daybreak South: