COVID-19 in British Columbia by the numbers

·10 min read
People wait for a shot at a shot at a pop-up immunization clinic in East Vancouver on July 17, 2021. (CBC News - image credit)
People wait for a shot at a shot at a pop-up immunization clinic in East Vancouver on July 17, 2021. (CBC News - image credit)

(Note: as of Sept. 10, 2021, this page and many of the charts in them will be updated less frequently, on a monthly or longer basis)

As the COVID-19 outbreak in British Columbia continues, we've created a number of 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 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 2020, for example. As time has gone on, certain metrics have mattered more than others in evaluating how "well" different jurisdictions have done in combating 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 first case was announced on Jan. 28. As you can see, the pandemic has unfolded in several phases:

  • From late January to early March 2020 there were only a few sporadic, travel-based cases.

  • From mid-May to mid-July the number of daily new cases, deaths and hospitalizations remained relatively flat.

The chart below includes the number of deaths, hospitalizations and new cases announced by the government each day.

Vaccinations

To date, three vaccines are being used in British Columbia: one by Pfizer-BioNTech, one by Moderna and one by AstraZeneca-Oxford.

Shortly after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved, B.C. announced its strategy for distributing the vaccine, which the federal government is delivering to provinces on a per capita basis.

In March, B.C. opened clinics to the general public and the pace of vaccinations began increasing steadily, to a point where between 40,000 and 60,000 people were getting a shot most days between April and June.

By early June, the number of people receiving second doses began eclipsing the number receiving first doses, with approximately 80 per cent of all eligible British Columbians receiving a first dose, and by early August the total number of doses given each day began to fall rapidly.

As time went on, a stark regional difference in vaccination rates began to emerge, with most local health areas in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria seeing nearly 85 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated, while it was less than 70 per cent in many areas in the Interior and northern B.C.

4th Wave

As the number of people vaccinated in B.C. grew steadily from March to June, the number of daily cases, active cases and hospitalizations all fell rapidly.

But that changed in July and August, with the rolling average increasing by 1,000 per cent in just a few weeks.

Officials attributed it to the same reason cases had quickly risen in several other countries with highly vaccinated populations — the highly transmissible delta variant, which after a few months of being kept under control in B.C., quickly become the dominant strain.

Its effects were first seen in the Interior Health region where there were lower vaccination rates than the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. In Kelowna, cases eventually grew to a per capita level not seen in any major city in the province at any point in the pandemic.

But there were also major outbreaks in smaller communities throughout the Interior and north, and cases also began rising in the Lower Mainland, albeit at a slower pace.

Cases by region

The province releases cases by health region on a daily basis, 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. from Quesnel north)

Originally, the province said the reason for not releasing more specific geographic data came down to privacy issues.

"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, beginning in May 2020, officials 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.

When B.C.'s cases started to rapidly escalate in October 2020, they were centred in the Fraser Health region, which remained the biggest area of transmission in the province for months to come.

Beginning in late August 2020, the government began releasing monthly data on each of B.C.'s 89 local health areas, becoming weekly in December. Two areas in the Lower Mainland with the highest per capita transmission have been Surrey and Abbotsford, with approximately 7.5 per cent and 5.7 per cent respectively of the entire population in the regions being infected by July 2021.

In March and April 2021, transmission of the virus was high enough in Prince Rupert and Whistler that mass vaccination clinics were set up for those entire communities, which saw sharp decreases in transmission shortly after.

In July and early August, cases surged in the Kelowna area to a per capita level that hadn't been seen in any major urban area in B.C. for the entire pandemic.

Cases by age

For several months in the first wave, 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 wasn't unique to B.C., but from the summer of 2020 onwards, the number of cases in people under the age of 50 — particularly people between 20 and 40 years old — became the majority of cases each week, to the point where they now make up more than two-thirds of cases.

In early April 2021, as cases among all age groups spiked, Premier John Horgan said "the cohort from 20-39 are ... putting the rest of us in a challenging position," and asked them to "not blow this for the rest of us". In the months after, the number of cases in people 20 to 39 did not proportionally rise, but the number of cases in people under 20 did.

However, in the 4th wave, the per cent of new COVID-19 cases in the province did become disproportionately centred on people in their 20s and 30s in a way it hadn't in the second and third waves, partly due to lower vaccination rates and partly due to the increased transmissibility of the delta variant.

'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 was "behind" or "ahead" of the curve than others.

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 consistently the lowest or second lowest of any province, U.S. state or country in western Europe with at least five million people.

Hospitalizations

The government releases 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 2020 and slowly fell through the summer of 2020.

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 2020 — helping to ensure people in hospitals were given proper care, potentially reducing deaths — while cases surged in Canada's two largest provinces.

In the second wave of the pandemic, hospitalizations originally rose quite slowly, but that was primarily due to most of the new cases being concentrated among younger people.

That changed by late October as the virus began to infect more people 70 and older. Total hospitalizations stabilized in mid-December at around 350 at any given time and began falling in the second half of January 2021 — but in the third wave they rose again to record numbers of people in critical care, forcing the postponement of surgeries for a second time, before declining quickly throughout May, and then beginning to rise once again during the 4th wave.

While this increase in hospitalizations happened despite more than 80 per cent of eligible British Columbians having at least once vaccine dose, when adjusted for age the data showed a massive difference in hospitalizations and ICU rates depending on vaccination status.

Care homes

One area where the province has regularly changed its policy on releasing data is care homes.

The government has treated any positive case at any care home as an outbreak, whether it comes from a patient or a staff member. After releasing information on all care homes on a daily basis from April to October 2020, the government stopped entirely in October, giving various reasons for doing so. In early January, they announced they would be providing that data again weekly.

In the first wave, only the Lynn Valley, Haro Park, Royal Arch Masonic, Langley Lodge, and Holy Family Hospital centres saw widespread community transmission, and all except the Holy Family Hospital were declared over by early July.

The second wave began in November, but there were many more major outbreaks, including Vancouver's German-Canadian Care Home, Little Mountain Place — which has had the most deaths of any care home, with 41 — Burnaby's Agecare Harmony Court, West Vancouver's Capilano Centre and Abbotsford's Tabor Village.

From late December to early February 2021, approximately 91 per cent of the province's 34,217 residents of long-term care homes received the vaccine, and the number of cases and deaths in LTCs dramatically dropped shortly after, and have been stable for months.

As of September 2021, more than 1,050 COVID-19 deaths in B.C. have been in care homes, assisted-living or independent seniors' facilities, representing just under 60 per cent of the province's total virus-related deaths.

Testing

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.

As a result, B.C. went from testing around 2,000 people a day in the latter half of March 2020 to around 1,000 people a day for most of April, before it increased after the province said anyone who had symptoms could get a test, instead of being asked to self-isolate if they're lower risk.

In the second and third waves, the number of tests given per day rose to between 8,000 and 15,000 each day, a rate below most other provinces on a per-capita basis.

The difference in tests on any day means the rolling average of positive tests has become more important to understanding whether B.C. has had a "good" or "bad" week in containing the pandemic.

That number was as high as four per cent in the early days of the pandemic, before falling to less than one per cent for most of June. But by November, the positivity rate across B.C. had eclipsed five per cent, where it remained for months — going above 10 per cent during the third wave — before falling consistently throughout May and June 2021, to the point where it was below one per cent in July 2021 for the first time in a year, until it once again rose in the fourth wave.

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