British Columbia reported a record 2,944 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, along with five additional deaths since Dec. 24.
The numbers likely undercount the actual number of new cases in the province, with multiple PCR testing sites in the Lower Mainland closed due to extreme cold and with officials acknowledging the testing system had reached its capacity.
There were at least 16,041 active cases province-wide.
Of the new confirmed cases, 1,591 were in the Fraser Health region, 571 were in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 374 were in the Interior Health region, 99 were in the Northern Health region and 390 were in the Island Health region.
Amid the testing challenges, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she couldn’t give an estimate for the true number of cases in B.C., but that officials have known “all along” that testing under-counts the real number in the community.
“On average, there’s probably three to four times the number of people who truly have covid then what is in our surveillance numbers on a daily basis,” she said, adding that the daily data was still useful for a variety of reasons.
“The seven-day rolling average helps us understand trends over time … we look at things like the rate of testing in different communities and different parts of the province and by age, we look at the per cent positive in our testing in the different places.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the seven-day average for test positivity had climbed to nearly 14.5, and was consistent across much of the province.
There were 193 active cases in hospital, 66 of whom were in critical or intensive care. Henry said that one positive note was that people who were fully vaccinated were not ending up in hospital so far. However she said B.C. was closely watching Quebec, which has seen hospitalization numbers surge in recent days.
More than 4.38 million British Columbians, 88 per cent of those eligible and 85.1 per cent of B.C.’s population, has had one does of COVID-19 vaccine.
Of them, more than 4.12 million people, 82.8 per cent of those eligible and 80.2 per cent of B.C.’s population have had two doses.
A further 858,774 people, 18.5 per cent of those eligible and 16.6 per cent of B.C.’s population has had a booster dose.
People who weren’t fully vaccinated made up 15.9 per cent of cases over the past week and 57.6 per cent of hospitalizations over the past two weeks.
Henry said the Omicron variant’s incubation period of about three days, half that of previous variants, had overwhelmed B.C.’s ability to contact trace.
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“People are getting infected with a much smaller dose of the virus and much more quickly, and they are passing it on to others, often before they realize they are able to transmit it,” Henry said.
Anyone with any symptoms should assume they have the virus and take measures to avoid passing it on, including wearing masks and avoiding gatherings, she said.
Close contacts of people who have tested positive do not need to self-isolate if fully vaccinated, she added, but should monitor for symptoms for two weeks and avoid gatherings, particularly with vulnerable people.
She also urged people in higher-risk settings to consider higher-quality masks, such as N95 masks or surgical masks, or to double mask.
The province has recorded a total of 2,419 deaths since the start of the pandemic.