For anyone paying close attention to the province’s COVID-19 situation, the new public health restrictions for the Central Okanagan region should come as absolutely no surprise.
I have been reporting for well more than a week now about the steady and dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases in the Interior Health Authority, which covers the Central Okanagan. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s data has shown that within the authority itself, the Central Okanagan has seen the most cases.
Up until a week ago, Interior Health was reporting an average of about 24 cases. It is now averaging 65 cases a day, which represents a sudden surge in cases over a short period.
What appears to have happened is an example of what can occur when the Delta variant of COVID-19 meets up with a relatively large number of unvaccinated people. Case numbers can skyrocket very quickly since the Delta variant is so highly contagious (the Delta variant shows up as 74 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the Interior, by far the biggest presence of Delta in the province).
The first-dose vaccination rate in the Interior is 74 per cent, significantly lower than the provincial average of 81 per cent. But the number of people aged 20 to 40 generally have an even lower vaccination rate and that is the age cohort that has been hit the hardest by this latest outbreak.
That age cohort has shown to have the most COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic, but their share has grown dramatically in recent days. Until recently, people aged 20 to 40 comprise about 40 per cent of COVID-19 cases but in the Central Okanagan but now they represent almost 75 per cent of the cases.
Finally, the positivity rate (percentage of tests coming back as positive COVID-19 cases) has been skyrocketing in the Interior. The provincial average rate is 1.8 per cent (0.9 per cent in Vancouver Coastal) but the Interior seven-day rolling average has ballooned to 8.3 per cent and that rate is much higher in the Central Okanagan.
When you lay all these developments – a rapid spike in cases in a relatively small geographical region, infecting a particular segment of the population with a steady climb In the positivity rate — alongside each other, it was obvious something had to be done.
Even with the new restrictions – mandatory mask rules, greater monitoring and enforcement of restaurants and bars, discouraging non-essential travel to the region – the situation will not change overnight.
However, two key steps are being taken that should improve things over a shorter period.
Given that the majority of recent cases involve people aged 20 to 39, there will now be a major push to get the first dose into as many arms of that age group as possible.
Secondly, the interval between two doses has been shortened to 28 days in the Central Okanagan. That will allow younger people quicker access to the second dose and allow them to be fully immunized earlier.
The good news here is that those escalating daily case numbers in Central Okanagan do not mean quite what they did when we saw a similar outbreak in Kelowna last summer. Last year, no one was immunized but with so many people vaccinated this time it has kept really severe sickness at bay for the most part.
The key statistics are hospitalizations, critical care and deaths and all are stable or dropping in number.
For example, fewer than 125 people have needed to be hospitalized after contracting COVID-19 so far this month (we were averaging almost 400 hospitalizations a week in April). Fewer than 20 people have died in July from the virus, less than half the number in June.
Last week saw a total of 511 cases of COVID-19, a jump of almost 75 per cent over the week previous. But just 10 people were sick enough to require hospitalization.
The Central Okanagan is also not seeing any notable increase in hospitalizations or deaths from COVID-19, even with the spike in infections.
However, as the case numbers began to skyrocket, it seemed clear some regional restrictions were coming. Let’s hope they have the desired effect.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct interval between COVID vaccine doses.View link »