B.C. has recorded another 832 cases of COVID-19 and five more deaths from the disease, health officials announced Thursday, as they urged everyone to play it safe over the long weekend.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there are now 296 people in hospital with the novel coronavirus, including 79 who are in intensive care, out of 7,571 active cases. The number of people being monitored by public health because of exposure to COVID-19 has risen to 11,608.
To date, 1,463 people have died of COVID-19 in B.C., out of 100,880 confirmed cases. Another 91,732 people have recovered.
Ahead of the long weekend, Henry urged British Columbians to stay home.
"This is not the time for any of us to be travelling for leisure or vacation or getaways outside of our community. Travel is still very high risk for all of us," she said.
She also re-emphasized the importance of public health orders that forbid all indoor social gatherings.
"As we come into this long weekend, all of us recognize our need to connect. It has been a long, long year for many. But we need to ensure, more than ever, that we are socializing safely. We do have an end in sight," Henry said.
"If you do choose to spend time with anyone outside your immediate household this weekend, it must be outdoors and all of the COVID-19 safety plans and precautions need to be followed."
There have been 90 new confirmed cases of variants of concern, bringing B.C.'s total to date to 2,643 cases, including 192 that are active.
Meanwhile, 787,649 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in B.C. including 87,394 second doses.
During Thursday's briefing, Henry spoke to some of the questions she's heard about the vaccines, including why it's still necessary for vaccinated people to wear masks in indoor public spaces.
"It takes time for our body's immune system to respond to the vaccines," she said.
People can still be infected during the first couple of weeks after a shot, and it's not clear yet how high a person's antibody levels should be to protect them from COVID-19, Henry explained.
"What we have seen from the vaccine effectiveness studies is regardless of antibody levels, there's a very high level of protection in seniors in long-term care that lasts for many months," she said.
Thursday's update also confirmed that vaccinations for front-line workers with the AstraZeneca shot will not begin next week as planned. Use of the vaccine in people under 55 was put on pause earlier this week because of reports of very rare but serious and sometimes fatal blood clots in Europe in people who had received the vaccine.
"If you have received this vaccine, be reassured it works very well, it's an effective vaccine and we know it's safe," Henry said.
Visitors return to long-term care
Beginning Thursday, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is changing its rules for long-term care visitors and significantly relaxing certain restrictions.
Family and friends can now touch their loved ones, while taking health precautions like wearing a mask and sanitizing hands.
Under the new rules, two adults and a child can visit at the same time and there are no longer restrictions on frequency or duration of visits.
Vaccinations, restrictions continue
The B.C. government announced Tuesday that people aged 55 to 65 who are living in the Lower Mainland could register as of Wednesday to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.
On Thursday, the B.C. Pharmacy Association said more supply of the vaccine has become available and an additional 375 local pharmacies will be able to provide shots in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions. There are now 488 pharmacies in the Lower Mainland providing vaccinations.
Health officials have said that anyone within the 55 to 65-year-old age range can call their local pharmacy to book a vaccination appointment.
As of Wednesday, anyone who is 72 or older can book an appointment through the province's vaccination call centres.
Officials also opened up appointments this week for Indigenous residents born in 2003 or earlier. All Indigenous people ages 18 and older can now contact their regional health authority call centre to book their first shot.
On Monday, the province implemented sweeping restrictions for a three-week "circuit breaker" as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow at an alarming pace.
Henry recommended the wearing of masks indoors for elementary school children from Grade 4 and up.
The Ministry of Education released updated guidelines Tuesday that reflect this recommendation.