B.C. health officials announced 194 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths on Wednesday, marking the second day in a row that B.C. has seen fewer than 200 new cases of the disease.
In a written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said there are currently 2,662 active cases of people infected with the novel coronavirus in B.C., the lowest level in seven months.
A total of 246 people are in hospital, including 70 in intensive care — the lowest number of overall hospitalizations since March 1.
Overall hospitalizations, which typically lag behind spikes and dips in new cases, are down by about 17 per cent from last Wednesday, when 296 people were in hospital with the disease.
The number of patients in intensive care is down by about 28 per cent from 97 a week ago.
Just over 71 per cent of adults in B.C. have now received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Henry and Dix said.
So far, 3,365,286 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, including 208,145 second doses. A record high 16,923 people received a second dose on Tuesday.
As the vaccination program continues to ramp up and case numbers and hospitalizations keep dropping, Henry and Dix expressed some cautious optimism about the reopening of the province.
"Many are excited about this transition, but there can also be fear and anxiety about what this may mean for you and your loved ones. We have all worked hard to stay safe and we want to keep our positive momentum going," they said.
"We can progress at a pace that works for us — whether that is in step with the restart plan or perhaps being slower and more gradual in our individual approaches."
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Dix said there are no plans to speed up the target dates for each stage of restrictions being eased, explaining that June 15 continues to be the earliest possible date for the next step in the plan.
He also said he doesn't expect B.C. to use incentives like "sports tickets or lottery tickets or chocolate bars or bourbon" to entice people to receive a vaccine, as jurisdictions like Manitoba are considering and which is already happening in the U.S. He said B.C.'s main focus is making it easier for everyone to access the vaccines, wherever they live.
"These COVID-19 vaccines, they are a gift. They keep you safe, your family safe, from a vicious virus that has killed so many people around the world and in British Columbia," Dix said.
The provincial death toll from the disease is now 1,707 lives lost out of 144,667 cases confirmed to date.
Public health officials are asking anyone who has not yet registered for a vaccine to do so now.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) updated its guidance to provinces and territories Tuesday to recommend that a first shot of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine can be followed by Moderna or Pfizer.
For Canadians who have had a first dose of Moderna or Pfizer, NACI now recommends they can take either of the two shots as a second dose — because they both use a similar mRNA technology.
Children aged 12 and older are eligible to receive only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and can also be registered through the online portal.
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.
Travel restrictions still in effect
British Columbians remain under provincial travel restrictions as the province prepares to reopen in stages between spring and September.
The four steps outlined by the province are a roadmap paving the way for a return to family gatherings, intimate celebrations, fuller restaurants and freer travel.
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 — though all of those activities still have to happen on a smaller scale with safety protocols in place.
Masks and physical distancing measures remain mandatory. Recreational travel is allowed, but still only within the province's three regional health zones.