As of Saturday, British Columbia has reported 424 cases of the novel coronavirus, including 10 deaths.
But so far, information on exactly who was getting sick with COVID-19 has not been fully clear.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry changed that Saturday by releasing the latest epidemiological data on those cases, showing the ages of people who have contracted the disease or died from it.
The data, which spans from the beginning of the outbreak in January to March 20, shows the disease has afflicted predominantly older age groups — much like the rest of the world.
“That represents the severity of this disease in older people,” Henry said.
The graph shown by Henry and posted to the government’s website shows roughly 60 per cent of cases are aged 50 and above, nearly half of whom are over 70 years old.
There are “very few” cases aged 10 to 19, Henry said, with none who are less than 10 years old.
A “cluster” of cases in their 20s, 30s and 40s reflects not only the number of health-care workers in B.C. who have contracted the coronavirus, Henry said, but also the roughly 20 people associated with last week’s Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver.
According to the data, 55 per cent of all cases are female, which Henry said is also attributable to the number of health-care workers who have contracted COVID-19.
Henry said the data is clear that there are notable instances of community spread of the coronavirus, which has allowed health-care workers to contract the virus and bring it to work with them.
That explains the outbreaks seen at four Metro Vancouver long-term care facilities, she said. One of those, North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre, has seen nine of the 10 deaths in the province. Staff members at Lions Gate Hospital have also fallen ill.
The graph shown only accounts for 266 of the 348 cases that had been reported as of March 20.
Henry said epidemiological data will be released regularly in the coming weeks as cases continue to be reported.
Explaining the curve
Henry said the cases that are reported each day are positive cases that have been identified and confirmed by health authorities and lab tests.
But because cases are sometimes tested days after the onset of symptoms, two curves have been created: one showing the total number of positive cases, and another known as the “onset curve.”
The onset curve is determined by the public health investigation into each case. In order to flatten that curve, Henry said everyone needs to take action at the onset of any symptoms, long before they are tested and prove themselves to be a positive case.
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“This is the one that we will start to see decrease if all the measures that we’re taking are effective,” she said.
“When we talk about flattening the curve, it’s not necessarily the total number of tests per day that’s important; it’s the number of people getting infected and making sure we can look back at those days ahead and isolate people before they can transmit it to others.”
Henry has already issued orders meant to promote social distancing, including banning large public gatherings, shifting restaurants and bars to take-out or delivery only, and closing several non-essential businesses.
“Now is the time to stay home as much as possible, and to keep a safe distance from others when outside,” she said.
“We are reminding British Columbians that their actions today will determine the impact of the virus in the coming weeks.”