British Columbia is ramping up vaccination rates and urging residents to limit their contacts as daily COVID-19 case numbers remain high and outbreaks rage in long-term care facilities.
The province reported 2,211 new cases in the last four days on Monday, a small but significant increase compared to daily averages in the last weeks of 2020.
Hospitalizations, which lag new cases by several weeks, decreased slightly to 351 people, with 76 in critical care. There are 6,823 cases in the province, the lowest number since Nov. 17.
The numbers don’t reflect the full impact of prohibited holiday gatherings, which won’t be seen until later this week and into next week. Provinces across Canada are reporting record case numbers as the first effects of holiday gatherings and travel are felt.
And Monday’s numbers suggest no end in sight to current public health measures prohibiting social gatherings outside one’s immediate household and advising against travel outside your community.
Those restrictions are set to expire Friday.
Since the start of the new year, 45 people have died of COVID-19 — including two Indigenous Elders — largely in long-term care and assisted living facilities, where there are currently 52 active outbreaks.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said these deaths are the reason the province is prioritizing the 70,000 staff and residents of long-term care in the first stage of vaccinations, which are expected to be finished by the end of January.
“We know what can happen when we let down our guard,” she said Monday. “Let’s make this year our year of success.”
Since mid-December, 24,139 people have been given the first vaccine dose, with 22,690 receiving the Pfizer vaccine and 1,449 the Moderna immunization.
Of these, about 20 per cent are residents and staff of long-term care and assisted living.
The province will ramp up vaccinations to about 3,300 per day in the next week, Henry said, up from some 1,600 daily over the weekend. Its goal is to vaccinate all residents, staff and essential visitors by the end of January.
About 30,000 health-care workers in COVID-19 and acute care units will also be vaccinated by the end of February.
In addition, 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine have already been made available to 18 remote and rural First Nations communities through the First Nations Health Authority and will be administered this week.
From the end of January to March, the focus will shift to community seniors aged 80 and over as well as Indigenous seniors at a lower age threshold.
People living in shelters, who are street-entrenched or homeless are the next priority group, and Henry said Monday people in correctional facilities and mental health residential care or group homes would be added to that priority group.
By the end of February, the province expects to immunize 150,000 people, and by March 400,000 British Columbians will have received the vaccine — less than 10 per cent of the population.
Henry said the province is planning to deliver second doses to people who have been vaccinated 35 days after the first injections. That will ensure the maximum number of people receive an initial dose given the expected supply, she said. The second doses boost and prolong immunity.
“We’re in this race right now, we need to make sure we can win,” said Henry.
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix appealed to all British Columbians to stay home if they feel unwell, limit social contacts and continue to wash their hands and wear a mask regularly.
“I’m asking everyone to be extra vigilant,” said Henry.
“All of us have to dig in now to do everything we can in every moment of every day to stop the spread of COVID-19,” added Dix.