The Central Okanagan is B.C.’s latest COVID-19 hot spot, and the popular tourism destination continues to drive cases upwards as vaccination rates lag behind the rest of the province.
Over a four-day period, the B.C. Interior recorded 395 of the province’s 742 new cases of COVID-19.
“When you see a COVID case count today, it reflects COVID cases or transmissions from last week,” B.C. health minister Adrian Dix told Global News.
“So we don’t turn the boat all-around at once.”
“So we’re going to see, coming out of this weekend, more than half of the cases in the province being (from) Interior Health. And the most, and largest part of those cases, being in the Central Okanagan local health area.”
There are now 847 active cases in the Interior Health region, compared to 348 active cases in Fraser Health and 212 active cases in Vancouver Coastal Health.
Officials declared an outbreak in the Central Okanagan on July 28, prompting the reintroduction of public health measures in Peachland, West Kelowna, Kelowna and Lake Country, including the return of mandatory masks in indoor public spaces.
Dr. Sue Pollock, interim chief medical health officer with the Interior Health Authority, said more than 95 per cent of new cases are among people who are not fully vaccinated.
“We are seeing cases in that younger age group, aged 20-40,” Pollock said.
The Interior Health region is also lagging behind in vaccination rates.
Approximately 75 per cent of eligible people in B.C.’s Interior have received their first dose, compared to 81.4 per cent province-wide.
Sixty per cent of residents in the Interior have received a second dose, while 67 per cent of people across B.C. are fully immunized.
B.C. is launching a new vaccination blitz called “Walk-In Wednesday” as part of its Vax for BC Program.
A total of 20,000 doses are reserved exclusively for walk-in patients at all vaccine clinics across the province on Wednesday, Aug. 4.
“What we really want is a big turnout for vaccinations in Interior Health,” Dix said.
“If you work in the service industry, if you work in the community, if you ever want to travel outside Canada, it’s time to get vaccinated.”
Interior Health has also opened a drop-in mobile immunization clinic at the Kelowna Yacht Club, where the member’s lounge is temporarily closed after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
“We were looking at a clinic that would be more accessible for this younger age group where we are seeing more cases, and trying to make it more accessible for workers in the service industry who are downtown,” Pollock said.
Infectious disease experts say the vaccine push could prove effective in the Interior.
“I think this vaccine Wednesday, these vaxathons, making the vaccine available in various locations where we know unvaccinated people would tend to go, I think this is going to be part of the solution,” said Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre.
Conway said the slowdown of people receiving their first dose leaves a gap for variants of the virus to take hold in B.C.
“It leaves a huge gap, because not only do you need one dose but you need two doses to be properly, optimally protected against potential infection with the Delta variants,” he said.
Conway added that recent studies show Canada’s approved vaccines offer up to 80 per cent protection against the Delta variant once double-dosed.
“I think that’s encouraging news. It’s not as good as other variants that have been around since the beginning of the pandemic, but it is considerable protection,” he said.
As for the restrictions in the Central Okanagan, Pollock said they will remain in place until COVID-19 case counts decline and vaccination rates rise.