British Columbia is at risk of losing the ability to trace COVID-19 cases as infections increase rapidly in the Lower Mainland, according to the province’s most recent epidemiological modelling.
On Thursday, the province broke two COVID-19 records, with 594 more people testing positive for the virus and 155 in hospital.
In the last two days, B.C.’s weekly new cases per capita surpassed Ontario’s to become the fifth highest in Canada after Manitoba, Alberta, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
And with new daily cases now doubling every 13 days, public health officials are urging people to heed public health orders and protect health-care facilities and schools.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the surge in cases has overwhelmed health officials.
“It’s been stretched to the max, and we’re falling a bit behind,” she said Thursday.
Since August, B.C. has hired 636 new contact tracers. The government’s goal is to have 800 people working on contact tracing and ensuring people exposed to the virus self-isolate.
But as testing increases to more than 18,000 tests per week, the positivity rate has also risen to 5.4 per cent. The virus’s current reproductive rate in B.C. is just below two — each person with COVID-19 infects two other people.
Super-spreader events like weddings, fitness classes and workplace gatherings drive the numbers up.
“It’s really the last two to three weeks where I’d say we’re in a place where we need to take additional measures, because we’re losing control of our ability to manage each case,” said Henry.
The vast majority of cases have been reported in the Lower Mainland despite some recent clusters in Interior and Northern Health.
Henry said there will be more COVID-19 transmission unless people limit social gatherings, sports and travel.
“Everything I’m talking about is because we started to see an increase in our cases recently,” said Henry. “And it’s stretching our ability to cope.”
But hospital capacity remains strong, she added.
“Our health-care system, to say the least, is going all out,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.
Schools are also faring well despite slight increases in the number of school-aged teens testing positive, mostly among those who are 18 and 19 years old.
Across 1,942 schools in B.C., there have been 261 exposure events to date, less than 12 transmission events recorded and one outbreak.
Nine out of 10 schools have not had an exposure event, and COVID-19 has affected few students.
Henry said now is the time to rely on habits from early in the spring.
“This is our time, we need to take a step back and recognize that we are being affected in the same way that people around the world are being affected,” she said.
Keeping physical distance, wearing a mask, staying home when sick and not gathering outside of our households will all protect the most vulnerable to serious illness, as well as schools, hospitals and businesses through the next several months.
“We are in a challenging time, perhaps the most challenging time of our pandemic. But it will end, we do have hope, this is not forever,” said Henry, noting that the first round of vaccines is expected in the first few months of the new year.
“But for us to get from here to there, we need to take a deep breath and recognize that we can do this.”
Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee