British Columbia won’t introduce further public health restrictions to curb the pandemic, despite provincial modelling that suggests new cases could top 1,000 per day and hospitalizations will gradually increase over the next month.
Current measures, including restrictions to deal with rising cases in Interior Health, are enough to manage the pandemic’s fourth wave as the province tries to increase vaccination rates, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said today.
“We are likely to see a gradually, steadily increasing number of cases over the next month, and slightly increasing hospitalizations in the next month,” said Henry.
Despite not introducing new restrictions, Henry said people should reduce their infectious potential by wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, stay home when sick and wash their hands often.
“The most important actions we can take now… are to decrease our infectious contacts by going back to basics,” said Henry.
The province’s fourth wave has brought the rolling average of new cases to nearly 700 per day, and hospitalizations to 171 on Sunday.
In every health region, each new case leads to about one new one. The goal, Henry said, is to get that reproductive number under one in order to slow the spread.
Contact tracing is under strain, Henry said, as is the health-care system. In some Interior Health hospitals, scheduled surgeries have already been cancelled to free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
"We're stretched very thin — we have a very thin health-care system right now, particularly in critical care, and people have been doing this for a long time," Henry said.
“We know that the strain on the system is quite high right now.”
A report from the independent BC COVID-19 Modelling Group suggested that without further measures, hospitals could be overwhelmed by the end of September, with daily cases exceeding records set in the third wave — even if more public health measures are introduced.
But B.C.’s pandemic response remains focused on increasing vaccination rates, which hover around 84.3 per cent of eligible people with at least one shot.
Last week’s announcement that proof of immunization would be required to go to restaurants, theatres, concerts and sporting events, among other non-essential settings, has already seen vaccine appointment bookings nearly triple among people under 40, and especially those between the ages of 12 to 30.
Henry said even a couple of percentage points more could have huge impacts on transmission, particularly in communities where low vaccination rates have left residents vulnerable to the dominant and highly transmissible Delta variant in the North and Interior.
“This has become a pandemic that is spread rapidly among pockets of people who are unvaccinated,” she said. “We are in a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Data shows vaccines are providing across-the-board protection against hospitalization and death, especially among those under 60.
Unvaccinated people are 12 times as likely to get COVID-19 and 34 times more likely to be hospitalized, compared with people who are fully vaccinated. Without a single vaccine dose, a person is eight times more likely to die of COVID-19.
While 76.4 per cent of eligible people in B.C. have both doses, they accounted for just 15 per cent of cases and 13 per cent of hospitalizations in the last month.
There are some fully vaccinated people who have been hospitalized and a small number who have died, Henry said, and these tend to be people in their 70s or 80s who can’t mount as robust an immune response from the vaccine.
While the 600,000 children under 12 in B.C. remain ineligible for vaccination until sometime in the fall and concerns about next week’s return to school continue, Henry said she would not require vaccines for teachers, staff or students 12 and above.
Henry said she was working with Health Minister Adrian Dix on plans to require vaccinations for more health-care workers, just as the government did recently for staff in long-term care facilities.
Of the 33 deaths over the past month, one-third have been in long-term care. There are currently 16 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living buildings.
“These are the people the rest of us need to protect by stopping transmission of this virus and getting vaccinated ourselves,” said Henry.