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Coronavirus

BC COVID Cases ‘Persistently High,’ But No New Restrictions

‘In our heads, in our hearts, we know this is not and cannot be our new normal,’ says health minister.

Moira Wyton 9 Mar 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Moira Wyton is The Tyee’s health reporter. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

More restrictions to curb the pandemic could be coming if persistently high new case counts, including increasing cases of new variants, appear to be taking off, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday.

But despite a month of rising case numbers, no new measures have been introduced and Henry also suggested the province may begin to slowly lift some restrictions on outdoor gatherings and sports in the coming weeks.

B.C. reported 1,462 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, an average of 487 each day. 

The total number of variant cases — new versions of the virus with potentially greater risks — climbed to 394 on Monday. The number of variant cases identified from previous positive tests jumped by 144 over the weekend, the largest increase to date.

There are currently 87 active variant cases in B.C., concentrated in the Lower Mainland, and the source of about a quarter of all cases hasn’t yet been identified.

The large number of new cases each day and the spread of variants are a concern, Henry said last month.

But B.C. has yet to introduce additional restrictions since the current steady uptick began in early February.

“I was more concerned a month ago, because we were not providing vaccines to care homes,” said Henry. “Also, because we were just starting to understand the impact of variants of concern.”

“We’re not out of that woods yet, but we know a lot more about these cases and where they’re occurring.”

While there has been a steady increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have remained relatively stable. On Monday, 240 people were in hospital and 66 of those were receiving critical or intensive care.

Recent data showing that vaccinations are curbing spread in long-term care and health care settings is heartening, Henry noted.

Health Minister Adrian Dix defended the province’s record and the “significant measures” taken but acknowledged the current level of new cases is alarming.

“Our case numbers are persistently high,” he said. “In our heads, in our hearts, we know this is not and cannot be our new normal.”

The province’s vaccination effort, which began Phase 2 on Monday by offering seniors 90 and over and Indigenous Elders over 65 the chance to book vaccination appointments, has been portrayed as a beacon of hope in recent briefings.

“We have to be able to look ahead,” said Henry.

To date, at least 311,208 doses of the vaccine have been administered, of which 86,865 are second doses.

The province said last week all adults in B.C. will receive a first dose of vaccine by the end of July, two months earlier than predicted.

But last month The Tyee reported on the importance of limiting transmission to ensure vaccines are effective as COVID variants emerge.

“It’s astonishingly incredible that we have these vaccines already, so we’re really fortunate in that regard,” said evolutionary geneticist Jeffrey Joy at the University of British Columbia in an interview. “But I think we have to be a little bit patient; we have to be patient to maintain other things that limit the spread of the virus.”

Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre president Dr. Brian Conway told CTV Vancouver that with daily case numbers consistently over 500, B.C. can’t just wait for the vaccine.

"Obviously what we’re doing in British Columbia is not having the desired effect. We cannot have 650 cases a day, and we cannot tolerate it until the vaccine kicks in and produces community-based immunity, we’re weeks and months away from that,” he said.

Henry said March will be critical in assessing whether rapid growth in cases and variants emerges.

“We’ve shown that what we’re doing is working to prevent a rapid takeoff so far,” she said. “But we have a lot of transmission in our communities still.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Coronavirus

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