BC’s COVID Cases ‘Too High,’ but No New Restrictions

·3 min read

Essential workers in hard-hit cities like Surrey could be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday.

The Lower Mainland, and Surrey in particular, continue to see high rates of transmission and are reporting the vast majority of new cases in the province, including new variants of the COVID-19 virus.

“This is a concern,” Henry said, “because that is where the highest population density is, and this type of increase can quickly get out of control.”

Henry said clusters in workplaces as well as prohibited socializing in homes and indoor gatherings continue to drive transmission in these areas.

The coming vaccination campaign for essential workers is a chance to protect workers and communities with the most risk, Henry said.

That could mean a regional effort, similar to campaigns in Prince Rupert, where all adults over 18 are being offered vaccines to quell high community transmissions, and in the Downtown Eastside. That has seen cases decline rapidly in the last three weeks.

“We are focusing our efforts on where the transmission is highest,” said Henry.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the number of active cases across the province “are all too high right now.”

On Monday, health officials reported 1,785 new cases since Friday, for an average of 595 per day, continuing a slow but steady increase in new and active cases.

There are 166 new variant cases for a total of 1,366, including 237 active cases. Fraser Health accounts for 77 per cent of the COVID-19 variant cases, mainly the B117 variant first associated with the United Kingdom that is considered more easily transmitted and more deadly.

The province also reported 303 people in hospital, with 80 in critical or intensive care, the highest number since early January.

Younger people in their 30s and 40s are requiring more and longer hospitalization, Henry said.

Dix noted that hospitals are currently at more than 89 per cent of normal capacity and 71 per cent of their “surge capacity,” which reflects measures introduced to deal with rising COVID-19 cases.

Asked if B.C. was dealing with a third wave of the virus, Henry did not answer directly.

But she said the rising numbers keep her up at night.

“The variants of concern are moving quickly,” Henry said. “Now there is even less margin for error.”

So far, B.C. is seeing variants slowly replace the initial strain rather than driving transmission and rapid case growth as seen in Ontario, Henry said.

The province is now approaching its fifth month of banning indoor gatherings with people outside one’s household. But daily new case numbers and case numbers look similar to the weeks before the bans were imposed in late November.

Testing rates continue to be among the lowest in Canada, and no new restrictions have been announced.

Henry said a targeted approach is needed.

“We had a very high peak in our second wave. And now we’re at a high level, a level that keeps me awake for sure,” said Henry. “We’re at a point where we’re trying to target where transmission is happening in our community with the vaccines we have available.”

Henry stressed that gathering outside and at a distance is the only safe way to see people outside your household right now.

And while vaccinations have ramped up with 539,408 doses to date, Henry said there is still a long way to go until enough people are vaccinated to quell transmission.

“Let’s make spring the time to be outside, to gather with people that we care for safely,” said Henry.

Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee