In a sobering briefing, British Columbia health officials reported a record 911 new COVID-19 cases on Friday.
Another 11 British Columbians have died, bringing the provincial death toll to 395.
The number of people fighting COVID-19 in hospital also topped 300 for the first time, climbing to 301. Another 69 people were in critical or intensive care.
“I’ve spoken about the fact that we are in a pandemic storm, our COVID storm, and now we are facing a storm surge,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“Our safe zone has moved back; that sandbar where we can act safely has now become smaller.”
Once again, the majority of the cases were in the Fraser Health region (649) and Vancouver Coastal Health region (153).
Forty-seven cases were in the Interior Health region, 35 were in the Northern Health region and 27 were on Vancouver Island.
Rising cases amid restrictions
The grim numbers came nearly three weeks after Henry imposed stringent new restrictions on the Lower Mainland, which appear to have failed to stop surging case numbers.
Henry pointed to a “critical mass” of cases in the community, the increasing amount of time people are spending indoors and the virus’ apparent propensity to spread in cooler weather as factors behind the ongoing transmission.
“Right now in B.C., and around the world … we are seeing a much higher level of community transmission. This means the things that were safe — using the guidelines we had developed over the last 10 months — are no longer in that safe zone,” Henry said.
“This is different from what we were experiencing before.”
Henry emphasized the need to continue to refrain from social and religious gatherings where transmission continues to occur, but said workplace transmission has also become a problem.
She pointed to cases ranging from light industrial settings to car dealerships, and said the province was working with WorkSafe BC to try and tackle high-risk activities, such as carpooling or clustering in break rooms.
Interactions between workers and customers, she said, have not been a major source of transmission.
Henry resisted suggestions that B.C. emulate the approach other jurisdictions, such as Ontario have put in place, but said the province is always looking at new measures.
Any action will depend on a range of factors, including where transmission is happening and the rate of test positivity, she said.
“We will be able to have a better idea next week, we’re still in the place where we are not surprised to see cases going up.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased by more than 285 per cent in the month of November, while the number of patients in intensive care was up 176 per cent.
Despite the record-high hospitalization numbers, Health Minister Adrian Dix said acute care beds remained at 71 per cent capacity and critical care capacity at 55.6 per cent.
But he warned that beds are not the only part of the health-care system under pressure.
“The challenge is not just having the bed capacity, but also having the adequate staff and resources to deal with the situation,” Dix said.
“We do, for the moment, but it is important I think for everyone to understand how critical it is for everybody, for those waiting for other procedures … that we do everything we can to stop the spread.”
That includes strict adherence to physical distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding social gatherings — measures Dix insists will save lives.
Vaccine due in “early 2021”
Earlier Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a Canadian Forces general who commanded NATO troops in Iraq would lead the rollout.
Despite no vaccine yet reaching the market and an uncertain timeline, Trudeau said a “majority” of Canadians should be vaccinated against the virus by September.
Henry told reporters she remains confident the product will arrive in B.C. much earlier than that.
“I’m confident that Canada has contracts in place,” Henry said.
However, she acknowledged there were many “moving parts” in distribution, including strict quality checking which could lead to delays.
“I believe we will see vaccine early in 2021, as predicted, as soon as all the safety criteria are met,” she said.
Just under 69 per cent of B.C.’s 30,884 cases have recovered.