VIDEO: Vancouver Island contact tracing doubles due to COVID variants, more socializing

·3 min read

For every person who gets COVID-19 on Vancouver Island, more than four are being sent into self-isolation as part of the contact tracing, up significantly from last year.

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for Island Health, told the media Tuesday that increase is likely due to the more contagious variants and “more social interaction than we would prefer,” he said, diplomatically.

“A significant number in this is we have 1,162 individuals in isolation. Part of that is being driven by 4.3 contacts per case, for much of the last year we were running less than two per case,” he said.

It’s becoming more common for low-risk contacts to test positive at their day seven asymptomatic test, indicating that the variants of concern really are more contagious than the dominant strain.

“What might have been a casual contact, which would be deemed as insignificant, may be playing into this,” he said.

There are 13 confirmed cases of variants on the Island right now, but Stanwick suspects the real number is higher. More samples than ever are being sent to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control for analysis.

Contact tracing interviews reveal that many social interactions “are taking place indoors in a lot closer than the two metres we’re recommending.”

“We really need people to go back to the practices that got us to a point where we had a curve that was relatively flat.”

New cases are starting to decrease again — 40 new cases on Monday — after some record breaking days last week. That increase Stanwick suspects was caused by spring break travel, both to and from the Island, the variants and un-distanced, indoor social gatherings.

Vaccine hesitancy

On the vaccine front, the Island remains on target to have every willing person vaccinated by July 1. So far 15 per cent of eligible people have received at least a first dose.

Asked about vaccine hesitancy, especially in light of the AstraZeneca vaccine being paused for a few days, Stanwick said it’s critically important to be holding a transparent dialogue with the public about possible vaccine side effects, but also about the consequences of getting COVID-19.

“We haven’t emphasized that one in five people who get COVID-19 experience some form of [blood] clotting, versus one in 100,000 one in 200,000 with the vaccine, with an awareness, and knowing there are effective therapies to address it.

“One of the tenets of medicine is that there has to be informed consent. The challenge is of course communicating what that risk is in real terms, versus what the consequence is of getting the disease is.

“There has been an extreme and appropriate focus on this because it’s new, and it’s affecting the entire population, but one of the side effects is this ability to do good risk communication,” he said.

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READ MORE: B.C. stops indoor dining, fitness, religious service due to COVID-19 spike

READ MORE: Island Health issues warning after significant jump in COVID-19 among 20-39-year-olds

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca

Zoë Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Island Gazette