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Concern around COVID-19 variants grows in B.C. with fears cases could soar with more interactions

Click to play video 'Dr. Bonnie Henry extends restrictions, holds out some hope for end of February' Dr. Bonnie Henry extends restrictions, holds out some hope for end of February
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has extended the current COVID-19 restrictions indefinitely, but as Richard Zussman reports, she is holding out some hope for good news by the end of the month, providing British Columbians behave themselves. – Feb 5, 2021

The B.C. government is releasing its latest COVID-19 modelling data Friday, and there’s concern around the virus variants currently circulating in the province.

Due to the shortage of vaccines and the unknown nature of the variants, the province is still grappling with what additional measures will be effective in reducing deaths linked to COVID-19 and reducing the spread of the virus.

Click to play video 'Reaction to indefinite extension of COVID-19 restrictions' Reaction to indefinite extension of COVID-19 restrictions
Reaction to indefinite extension of COVID-19 restrictions – Feb 5, 2021

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said based on information provided by the province, right now, British Columbians are having about half the number of contacts in a typical pre-pandemic day.

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If public behaviour continues this pattern, provincial data shows that virus transmission will continue to go down through the end of March.

Read more: Coronavirus: B.C.’s ban on social gatherings and events extended until further notice

She said while they are seeing a decrease in the Fraser Health region, they are seeing increases in other health regions, such as the North and the Interior.

The biggest age range of transmission continues to be in the 19 to 40 age range, Henry added.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: B.C. public health orders to remain in place, says province’s top doctor' Coronavirus: B.C. public health orders to remain in place, says province’s top doctor
Coronavirus: B.C. public health orders to remain in place, says province’s top doctor – Feb 5, 2021

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But the greatest concern is whether the contacts go up, especially if more of the COVID-19 variants are detected in the province.

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At a contact rate of 60 per cent, the transmission would skyrocket past 1,500 cases a day by early March. Increase those contact rates to 70 per cent and the cases explode past 1,500 new ones by the middle of February, the data showed.

For now, cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, originally detected in the U.K., and the B.1.351 variant, originally detected in South Africa, are still rare in the province according to health officials.

There have been a total of 28 variant cases detected in the province through genomic sequencing.

Click to play video 'Community spread of COVID-19 variants could send cases soaring' Community spread of COVID-19 variants could send cases soaring
Community spread of COVID-19 variants could send cases soaring – Feb 2, 2021

The majority of the cases are the U.K. variant, 14 of those acquired by travel and five from transmission in B.C.

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The South African variant has been trickier for the province, identifying just one by travel and eight through local transmission.

In order to attempt to prevent the spread of the variants, the province is ramping up whole genome sequencing and screening for key mutations.

Last week, 81 students and adults connected to the Garibaldi School case in Maple Ridge were tested. Other than one false positive, all the tests came back negative. The testing took place after a close contact of someone with the variant was in the school.

Henry said school-aged children still account for less than 10 per cent of overall cases and do not appear to get sick as severely if they catch COVID-19.

In an alarming announcement, however, cases in Whistler have soared.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said from Jan. 1 to Feb. 2, there have been 547 cases in the resort community. Dix said those are mostly in young people and while only two required brief hospitalizations, there were only 271 cases in the community in the whole of 2020.

Read more: More people in Whistler have contracted COVID-19 in January than in all of 2020

Click to play video 'Highest concern in B.C. is community spread of COVID-19 variants and confusion over travel to Whistler' Highest concern in B.C. is community spread of COVID-19 variants and confusion over travel to Whistler
Highest concern in B.C. is community spread of COVID-19 variants and confusion over travel to Whistler – Feb 1, 2021

Health officials are still banking on the province’s vaccine rollout.

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There has been a dramatic drop off over the last week due to distribution issues from Moderna and Pfizer. Up to Feb. 3, the province has received 156,250 doses of the vaccine and administered 145,567.

Read more: Sixteen new COVID-19 deaths, 414 new cases, variant not transmitted at B.C. school

In long-term care, 87 per cent of residents have received the first dose and 89 per cent of staff. Just two per cent of residents have received the second dose, while 15 per cent of staff have received the second dose, the province said.

Due to the volatility of the vaccine, in most cases, staff received the vaccine before residents.

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The provincial numbers show 9,544 residents in assisted living have received the first dose of the vaccine.

Henry is also expected to announce if the current restrictions in the province will be extended.

 

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