Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided new details Wednesday on how hundreds of thousands of British Columbians will receive a COVID-19 vaccine over the new few months, while expressing cautious optimism about the province’s efforts to flatten the curve once again.
B.C. has confirmed another 518 cases of the novel coronavirus in the last day, while another 19 people have died. There are now 9,131 people with active cases across the province, of whom 348 are in hospital, including 80 in critical care.
“We have bent our curve slightly. We are now perhaps on a downward trajectory,” Henry said.
To date, 48,027 people have had confirmed cases of the virus, 796 of whom have died. There are two new outbreaks in the health-care system. In total, there are 55 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living and six in hospitals.
Henry presented new epidemiological models on Wednesday that show the second wave of the pandemic has begun to slow in response to restrictive new measures limiting social gatherings and events.
“We cannot let off. We’ve seen that happen before,” Henry said.
That means complying with a public health order that forbids social gatherings with anyone outside your household, even over the Christmas holiday and sticking to your local community.
The models she presented show that the seven-day rolling average of daily confirmed cases peaked in mid-November, and a slow decrease has begun. At the same time, the test positivity rate is falling from peak levels, which exceeded 10 per cent in some parts of the province.
“Unfortunately, our death rates have come up in the second wave,” Henry said. “We are not out of the woods.”
She also announced a new public health order in response to outbreaks of COVID-19 in industrial camps in B.C.’s north. The order will require those camps to do a slower, phased startup of work in January, when these projects typically see a big influx of workers.
“This large movement of people means potential for higher spread, and right now we know Northern Health is stretched,” Henry said.
“The order will help to ease that pressure at the start of the year.”
The order comes as Coastal GasLink provided updates about outbreaks at two of its worker accommodation sites — the 7 Mile Lodge in the Burns Lake area and Little Rock Lake Lodge in the Nechako area. There are now 33 confirmed cases connected to the outbreaks.
Immunization plan gets boost with Moderna approval
Health Canada announced Wednesday morning it has approved Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in this country, clearing the way for thousands of doses to arrive by month’s end.
“It is something we’ve been hoping for for some time,” Henry said.
B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization strategy is well underway. As of Wednesday, 5,603 people have received their first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Henry was among those immunized, and on Wednesday. she said the first doses of the Moderna vaccine will arrive in B.C. next week.
Wednesday also marked the first day that immunizations were provided onsite at long-term care homes, after the Pfizer-BioNTech product was approved for secondary distribution at those facilities. In the Vancouver Coastal Health region, staff at six homes experiencing outbreaks received vaccinations Wednesday.
Some residents at a long-term care home in the Northern Health region also received the shot on Wednesday.
The province says vaccines will become more available across the province now that Pfizer and Moderna have given guidance on how to safely transport the vaccines, which must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.
By March, B.C. expects to administer 792,000 doses of the two vaccines.
Priority up to February will be given to staff and residents of long-term care and assisted living, front-line health-care workers and people living in remote First Nation communities. Between February and March, seniors over the age of 80, homeless people, long-term home support recipients and providers, hospital staff and other Indigenous communities will receive the vaccine.
Henry said the goal is to give everyone a second dose of vaccine about 35 days after the first.
Fraser Health continues to be pandemic epicentre
Throughout the pandemic, the largest number of cases has been in the Fraser Health region, particularly in Surrey and Abbotsford. Most cases across the province are linked to community transmission from known outbreaks and clusters.
The majority of B.C.’s cases continue to be in people between the ages of 20 and 39, but the vast majority of deaths have been in people over the age of 70.
The modelling shows that each case of COVID-19 right now leads to about one new infection, which Henry said is evidence that the current measures are working.
Henry also provided an update on the return to in-classroom learning that began in September. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 18, there were 526 COVID-19 exposure events in schools, but only four outbreaks have been declared. About 70 per cent of schools have not had exposures.
“The data shows us that we are not seeing schools as a place where transmission is spreading widely,” Henry said.
In the Vancouver Coastal Health region, for example, 90 per cent of cases found in schools did not lead to transmission within the school.
Keeping the holidays safe
Health authorities are still urging caution as British Columbians look for ways to celebrate the holidays safely without breaking restrictions on travel and gatherings.
On Monday, Henry said that while B.C.’s curve is currently “levelling,” it’s at too high a plateau, with significant growth of new cases in the Interior and the north of B.C.
The province said it has formally extended B.C.’s state of emergency — which has been in place since March 18 — until Jan. 5.