New COVID-19 cases in British Columbia dipped below 400 for the first time in more than a week on Thursday, but health officials suggested it will still be some time before the province eases restrictions.
At a live briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported 395 cases, along with 10 additional deaths.
She also said the province’s ‘R-value,’ which expresses how many people someone with COVID-19 infects on average, had climbed worryingly over one.
“What this tells us is that every person on average who’s infected is spreading to more than one other person — this is something we need to watch and be careful,” Henry said.
The development opened the door to potential for “rapid growth if we’re not careful,” she added.
Both the seven-day rolling average of new cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive have also climbed in recent weeks, Henry said.
“We are continuing to watch these indicators and when we have confidence that they are slowing in a sustained way, that is when we will be able to ease restrictions — but we are not quite there yet,” Henry said.
The province was “looking ahead to March” when it comes to allowing more social visits, allowing in-person worship and increasing what’s permitted in youth sport, she said.
Eighty-six of the new cases were in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 207 were in the Fraser Health region, 37 were in the Island health region, 24 were in the Interior Health region and 41 were in the Northern Health region.
There were 4,489 active cases in the province and an additional 7,931 people isolating due to exposure.
The number of people in hospital fell by nine overnight to 228, 62 of whom were in critical or intensive care.
About 92.5 per cent of B.C.’s 78,673 cases have recovered, while 1,348 people have died.
B.C. has administered a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to 171,676 people, or about 3.36 per cent of the province’s population, while 68,157 people have received both first and second shots.
The province says it will start vaccination of people born before 1941 and who receive home support as of March 1, and of anyone over the age of 80 starting March 15.
Update on COVID variants
British Columbia has now identified a total of 116 cases of “variants of concern,” though Henry said just nine remain active, while the rest had completed their infectious phase.
Ninety-five of those cases are the B1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K., while 21 were the B1.315 variant first detected in South Africa. Both are believed to be more infectious.
Seventy-one of these variants were found in the Fraser Health region, 39 were in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, four were on Vancouver Island and two were in the Interior Health region.
Following the discovery of seven recent variant exposures at schools in the Fraser Health region, Henry said the province had tested 284 people, and found seven positive COVID-19 cases.
The cases, at Surrey Traditional School and Woodward Hill Elementary, involve six students and one staff member.
“We don’t yet know if those new cases are these variants of concern or not,” Henry said.
The province is boosting its screening of COVID tests to identify variant cases, Henry said, and was currently able to screen between 75 to 80 per cent of positive tests, Henry said.
By the end of next week, she said it should be able to screen all positive tests.
So far, the province still doesn’t know how about a quarter of people who’ve contracted the variants got them.