As the COVID-19 outbreak in British Columbia continues, we've added a number of regular charts to help people understand the nature of the crisis, how it has developed over time, and who it affects.
We've decided to put them all here as a reference, and they will be updated regularly as the government provides more data.
It's important to note that there are several caveats to the information: B.C. has never provided detailed data on Sundays and stopped providing data on Saturdays starting in June, for example. As time has gone on, certain metrics have mattered more than others in evaluating how "well" different jurisdictions have done in combatting the virus.
But we hope these charts are helpful in your broad understanding of how COVID-19 is affecting this province.
Cases over time
Here's a look at how the outbreak has unfolded in B.C. since the very first case was announced on Jan. 28. As you can see, the pandemic has unfolded in several phases:
- From late January to early March there were only a few sporadic, travel-based cases.
- From early March to mid-May the number of cases rose very quickly, before going down to around 10 a day.
- From mid-May to mid-July the number of daily new cases, deaths and hospitalizations remained relatively flat.
- From mid-July to the present there has been a rise in active cases and daily cases, with numbers higher than the first wave in March.
The chart also includes the number of new cases announced by the government each day, deaths, and people the province says have recovered from confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Cases by region
The province has been releasing cases by health region, and B.C. has five of them:
- Island Health (for Vancouver Island).
- Vancouver Coastal Health (an area comprising Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore, and communities along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Sunshine Coast and B.C.'s Central Coast).
- Fraser Health (the Fraser Valley and areas of Metro Vancouver not in Vancouver Coastal Health).
- Interior Health (generally anything in B.C.'s Interior, south of Williams Lake).
- Northern Health (generally anything in B.C. north of Quesnel).
The reason for not releasing geographic data more specific than that comes down to privacy issues, the province says.
"We're now at the place where it's irrelevant what community you're in. The risk of this virus is everywhere in British Columbia, everywhere in Canada," said B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
However, the province has released recoveries by health region since April, and beginning in May, they started to release more data on a sub-health region level, showing that Richmond had by far the lowest number of cases per capita in the Lower Mainland.
Cases by age
The province released its first set of demographics on March 21, providing the age ranges of around 90 per cent of people who had tested positive for the virus in B.C. at that point.
For several months, the numbers showed the majority of positive cases were in people over the age of 50, with 96 per cent of deaths occurring among people over the age of 60.
That isn't unique to B.C. — older populations have been the most affected across the world — but B.C. also skewed older in the early going partly due to the cluster of cases that developed at North Vancouver's Lynn Valley Care Centre at the beginning of March.
However, as time went on, the number of cases in people under the age of 50 — particularly people between 20 and 40 years old — began surging, to the point where they now make up a majority of cases.
'Ahead' of the 'curve' — and then flattening it
Different health authorities around the world release COVID-19 cases in different ways, and because different countries test less or more often per capita than others, it was hard in the early days of the outbreak to be definitive on whether any place is "behind" or "ahead" of the curve than others, unless it's an extreme outlier.
However, one measurement proved popular early on, showing the spread in confirmed cases within a population after it has reached the 100 case mark, using a logarithmic scale to show its exponentiality after that point. The number is less useful at a certain point because of different population sizes.
Here, we've charted how B.C. measured on this metric in the first three weeks of the outbreak compared to several European countries, Washington state, Ontario and Alberta.
B.C. was able to contain its outbreak at a relatively early stage. But the province's success was only able to be truly seen in the weeks and months afterward, when the number of COVID-19-related deaths in the province, adjusted for population, was very low compared to nearly any other province, U.S. state or country in western Europe with at least five million people.
The government has also begun releasing data on total hospitalizations at any one time, along with the number of people requiring intensive care.
Those numbers originally rose to more than 100 fairly quickly, but stopped going up in early April and slowly fell as time went on. By the end of May, the number of people in critical care dropped to single digits and numbers were stable through June through mid-August.
The government also says it has enough beds across the province to assist everyone, assuming B.C.'s trajectory continues at a rate equal to or lower than the outbreak in China's Hubei province. As part of their measures to ensure this, the province cancelled all non-essential surgeries, before resuming them in May.
As time has gone on, hospitalizations have become a more popular measurement because people going to the hospital because of the virus isn't something that can be explained away by different testing strategies.
Those figures, even when adjusted for population, show clearly that B.C. was able to keep the virus relatively in check during March and April — helping to ensure people in hospitals were given large amounts of care, potentially reducing deaths — while cases surged in Canada's two largest provinces.
The province has made one exception to their rule on not releasing the geography of positive cases — care homes.
"Our number of outbreaks have increased quite a bit," said Henry on April 1, announcing that B.C. had reached 21 different care homes with positive cases, all in the Lower Mainland — a number that has stayed relatively stable since then, with some care homes having their outbreaks resolved and some new care homes becoming infected.
The government has treated any positive case at any care home as an outbreak, whether it comes from a patient or a staff member, but only the Lynn Valley, Haro Park, Royal Arch Masonic, Langley Lodge and Holy Family Hospital centres had seen widespread community transmission. All except the Holy Family Hospital were declared over by early July.
However, those five homes have more than 90 deaths between them — nearly half of the province's total COVID-related deaths.
"It really reflects the challenges when you have transmission ongoing," said Henry.
"For most of the other cases, it's a single person has been identified, and the measures so far seem most to be effective."
In total, more than 145 COVID-19 deaths in B.C. have been in care homes, representing more than 70 per cent of the province's total deaths related to the virus.
The summer surge
After two months of remarkably stable numbers, B.C.'s case counts started to rise in early July — doubling once every two weeks or so from 10 a day to 80 by the middle of August.
Originally, the rise was mostly connected to Kelowna, where people with the virus, who were asymptomatic, went to several parties in the days surrounding Canada Day.
But as time went on, the number of active case in Metro Vancouver increased by more than 300 per cent in less than a week while cases in the rest of the province gently fell once again, prompting Health Minister Adrian Dix to call the regional disparity "a tale of two pandemics."
The province originally defended its approach to containing the pandemic and didn't make many changes to its policies — but in early August announced it would be hiring 500 people to oversee contact tracing, and allowed police to fine people $2,000 for hosting large events violating public health orders.
The fines were enacted in an effort to deter young people from gathering inside in large groups, since much of the rise in cases in B.C. has been a result of such gatherings, according to the government.
B.C. was initially one of the leaders in the world for the number of COVID-19 tests given — but that's changed as time has gone on, and other countries have dramatically ramped up their testing.
"Early on, we had a very broad testing strategy ... [but] we transitioned our testing strategy to the highest risk and most vulnerable areas," said Henry.
As a result, B.C. went from testing around 2,000 people a day in the latter half of March to around 1,000 people a day for most of April.
In late April, the province said anyone who has symptoms can once again get a test, instead of being asked to self-isolate if they're lower risk. The number of daily tests issued was between 1,500 to 2,500 for most of May, June and July.
'We're changing the strategy again to open it up ... and find everyone who needs to be isolated and where we need to do contact tracing," said Henry.
By late July, as the number of cases rose, the number of tests also rose to between 3,500 and 5,000 on most days — still a number per capita below most other provinces in the country.