B.C. health officials urge caution until more people have 2nd doses, even as cases continue to fall

·4 min read
People are pictured in line for their COVID-19 vaccination at Canada Place in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday May 27, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
People are pictured in line for their COVID-19 vaccination at Canada Place in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday May 27, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Health officials on Monday urged British Columbians to continue being vigilant about COVID-19 until more people have received their second dose of vaccine as outbreaks continue to pop up, despite a sharply declining caseload.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's plea for caution came as she announced that another 708 cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed over the weekend in B.C. and 11 more people had died.

That's an average of 236 daily cases over the last three days, as the seven-day rolling average of new daily cases continues to decline and is now at its lowest point since Oct. 31.

There are 249 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 78 in intensive care — the lowest number of patients in hospital since March 9.

In all, there are 2,953 active coronavirus cases across the province, Henry said in the first update on the pandemic since Friday. The active caseload is the smallest it's been since Nov. 2.

Henry said 3,250,116 doses of vaccine have now been administered across B.C., including 179,954 second doses. The latest numbers mean that 69.7 per cent of adults have received a shot so far.

"While we are making significant headway in our immunization efforts and that is reflected in the decreasing case counts in our communities and in our hospitals, it is still a time of caution for all of us. New strains are circulating and outbreaks are still occurring in schools, in hospitals, in long-term care and in our communities," Henry said.

The province is currently in the midst of an incubation period for the virus following a long weekend so anyone who may have contracted the virus will be starting to have symptoms and should get tested right away, she says.

"We have seen new outbreaks in recent days and we all need to take our precautions to prevent more," Henry said, adding masks will still need to be worn until about July even by people who have had two doses of vaccine because vaccines alone are not fully protective against infection.

Long-term care homes have seen some rapid transmission of the virus because not all residents have received a second shot and neither have visitors, so restrictions cannot be fully lifted in the facilities where people are in close contact, Henry says.

However, she says, more second doses will be available sooner than expected as extra shipments of vaccine are due to arrive next month and beyond.

Meanwhile, B.C. has recorded a third case of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) — the rare blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. The patient is a man in his 30s in the Island Health region who is receiving treatment in hospital.

Henry said she will provide more information on Thursday about second doses for people who have received a first shot of AstraZeneca.

A total of 1,703 people have died of COVID-19, out of 144,289 cases confirmed to date.

The lives lost over the weekend include one person in their 40s, two in their 60s, six in their 70s and two over the age of 80.

Henry said there are two new outbreaks, at Richmond Lions Manor-Bridgeport, a long-term care home in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and at at Iqra Islamic School in Surrey. There are currently six active outbreaks across the province.

Henry kicked off Monday's press conference by addressing the news that the remains of up to 215 children are believed to have been found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

She said she was struggling to find the right way to express her horror and grief.

"There are no words that can make right a deliberate and intentional system that was design to assimilate and extinguish Indigenous peoples," Henry said.

Watch: Dr. Henry addresses Kamloops Indian Residential School tragedy

Vaccinate now

Public health officials have urged anyone who has not yet registered for a vaccine to do so now.

Registration can be done online through the "Get Vaccinated" portal, by calling 1-833-838-2323, or in person at any Service B.C. location.

Anyone who received their vaccine before April 15 and was not registered with the province's online vaccine registration system should register now to receive an email or text notification of their second dose appointment.

Children between the ages of 12 and 17, about 310,000 people in B.C., can also register through the online portal. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was recently approved for use in children of that age group.

Roadmap to reopening

Travel between health regions remains restricted in British Columbia to reduce potential virus spread.

But due to the decline in cases and the rising number of British Columbians who have been vaccinated, the province has laid out a four-step restart plan that could see travel within B.C. reopened by June 15 and people socializing normally again by September.

As of now, residents can once again dine indoors, hit the gym for low-intensity workouts, play outdoor sports and hold faith-based gatherings in person.

If the data continues to trend in the right direction, travelling within Canada could be permissible in Step 3, around July 1.

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