COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling data, cases in schools, vaccination priorities, and more

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      Today, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix presented their last in-person briefing until Tuesday (December 29).

      With Christmas upon us, Henry implored everyone to remain local, keep gatherings small, and practise health measures.

      “Show you care by staying apart and connecting with people in safe ways,” she said. “We want our family, our loved ones, to be there for the next celebration, for the holiday that we’re going to have when we get this pandemic under control. The fewer people we see now, the safer we will all be.”

      Henry presented an update on data from recent weeks, including which age groups have been particularly affected and about case numbers in schools. She also provided information about who will be given priority for vaccinations in the next few months.

      Data and modelling update

      When Henry presented a graph that showed the rolling seven-day average since the start of the pandemic, it revealed that the number of active cases peaked in mid- to late-November, and have begun to decreased.

      Henry said that December 15 to 21 was one of the most difficult weeks for the province as there was a total of 109 deaths in that time period, in addition to 4,025 new cases.

      She also pointed out that the vast majority of cases in the second wave have been among people in the 20 to 29 year old age group. Cases were overrepresented in this age group as well as the 30 to 39 years old group in relation to their proportion of the population.

      There was one person who died in the 30 to 39 year old age group and four deaths of people in the 40 to 49 year old age group.

      But the vast majority of deaths, she said, have taken place among those 70 years and older.

      “Age remains the single most important risk factor for severe illness or deaths from COVID-19,” she said.

      Henry said that the recent health measures did prove to have an effect on case numbers by reducing social interactions.

      She pointed out that hospitalizations are levelling off but that they are at the highest rate we have seen this year.

      “The modelling has shown that the measures we are taking are working,” she said.

      Children and schools

      In contrast, she said children remain underrepresented for their proportion of the population.

      School-aged children represent 12 percent of the cases.

      B.C. has had four outbreaks declared at schools since reopening in September.

      “Even though we have exposure events that reflect transmission in our community, we have very little transmission actually in schools,” she said. (Exposure events means someone who had COVID-19 is present in schools but does not necessarily mean transmission has taken place.)

      From November 1 to December 18, there were 526 school exposures (which represent both students and adults) in B.C.’s 1,942 schools.

      Of those exposures, 292 were in elementary schools, 158 in secondary schools, 39 in middle schools, and 37 in other educational institutions or facilities.

      By region, there were:

      • 288 exposure events in Fraser Health;
      • 117 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 55 in Interior Health;
      • 45 in Northern Health;
      • 21 in Island Health.

      Over 70 percent of B.C. schools have not had an exposure.

      Vancouver Coastal Health reported that there were approximately 600 people (76 percent students and 24 percent staff) who tested positive (out of a total 120,000 people) but resulted in less than 200 exposure events in schools. No outbreaks have been declared at Vancouver Coastal Health schools.

      Approximately 90 percent of cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health school system were acquired from outside schools, often from household contact.

      Also there were less than 20 exposures in schools that led to transmission to one or two other people, which is less than 90 percent of cases. Henry said that after investigations, most transmission events involved staff members, not students.

      In Fraser Health, exposure events took place in 384 schools, with one-third (133 schools) in Surrey, which is the largest school district.

      Out of the 384 schools, 49 (13 percent) had potential in-school transmission events. Of these 49 schools, 23 schools (47 percent) were in Surrey.

      Henry said that this data shows that schools remain safe when health measures are in place.

      Province of British Columbia


      Next week, the Moderna vaccine will arrive in B.C. As Henry previously mentioned, some of the initial doses will be delivered to rural and isolated First Nations communities.

      That’s because, unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (which was first delivered to Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health), Moderna’s vaccine has fewer delivery restrictions. Accordingly, this vaccine is easier to send to and provide immunizations in rural and remote communities.

      The priority populations for vaccinations by time frame are:

      December to February:

      • longterm care and assisted-living facility staff and residents;
      • individuals waiting for longterm care;
      • essential visitors to longterm care or assisted living;
      • frontline healthcare workers in intensive care units;
      • remote or isolated First Nations communities.

      February to March:

      • community-based seniors (80 years and older);
      • homeless individuals and individuals in shelters, group homes, correctional facilities, and mental-health residential care;
      • longterm care facility support recipients and staff;
      • hospital staff, general practitioners, and medical specialists;
      • First Nations communities.

      B.C. update: December 23

      Henry announced there are 518 new cases today, which includes:

      • 332 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 97 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 49 in Interior Health;
      • 31 in Northern Health;
      • nine in Island Health;
      • no one from outside of Canada.

      Active cases continue to decline. Today, with 344 less cases since yesterday, there are now 9,137 active cases.

      After an increase in hospitalizations yesterday, numbers have lowered again—348 individuals are currently in hospital (nine less than yesterday), with 80 of those patients are in intensive care units (four less people since yesterday).

      Excluding the Northern Health region (which is still undergoing a data transfer process), public health is monitoring 9,689 people.

      Tragically, the number of fatalities is high again—there are 19 new COVID-19-related deaths, which brings the cumulative total to 796 people who have died during the pandemic.

      A total of 36,952 people have now recovered.

      So far during the pandemic, B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 48,027 cases, which includes:

      • 30,559 in Fraser Health;
      • 11,428 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 3,440 in Interior Health;
      • 1,651 in Northern Health;
      • 847 in Island Health;
      • 102 people from outside Canada.

      A total of 5,603 people have now been vaccinated in B.C.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, with Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      Outbreaks and exposures

      Two new healthcare facility outbreaks have been declared:

      • Evergreen Baptist Care Society (1550 Oxford Street) in White Rock, where Fraser Health stated that two residents and one staff member tested positive;
      • Minoru Residence (7333 Gollner Avenue) in Richmond, where Vancouver Coastal Health imposed restrictions on December 22.

      Meanwhile, two healthcare outbreaks have been declared over: Fellburn Care Centre in Burnaby and Villa Carital in Vancouver are over.

      Henry said there are 61 active outbreaks in healthcare facilities—55 in longterm care and six in acute care facilities.

      The good news is that there aren’t any new community outbreaks.

      Northern Health provided an update on the outbreak declared on December 19 at two worksites for the Coastal Gas Link project, stating that there are now 33 confirmed cases, with 18 of those cases currently active.

      Meanwhile, Henry announced a new provincial health order for industrial camps in Northern Health to ensure a slower and phased approach is used to resume activities at these projects.

      “At the start of the year, these camps typically have an influx of employees returning to the site,” Henry and Dix explained in their joint statement. “Combined, these factors mean a higher potential for spread amongst employees and in their home communities.”

      The new order is designed to minimize any potential transmission.

      Meanwhile, none of the five regional health authorities added any new public exposure events.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control added the following flights confirmed with COVID-19:

      • December 14: Air Canada 63, Vancouver to Seoul;
      • December 18: Aeromexico 696, Mexico City to Vancouver;
      • December 18: Air Canada/Jazz  8208, Prince George to Vancouver;
      • December 18: Air Canada/Jazz 8622, Vancouver to Winnipeg;
      • December 18: WestJet 3171, Calgary to Comox;
      • December 19: Air Canada 855, London to Vancouver;
      • December 19: Alaska Airlines/Horizon 2154, Seattle to Vancouver;
      • December 19: WestJet 706, Vancouver to Toronto;
      • December 19: WestJet 3290, Prince George to Vancouver.

      Affected row information is available at the BCCDC website.

      Sobeys had an employee test positive who last worked on December 14 at Safeway (1780 East Broadway) in Vancouver.

      Loblaws reported staff members tested positive at three of its stores.

      Two employees who tested positive last worked at Peter's Your Independent Grocer (1835 Gordon Drive) in Kelowna on December 10 and 20.

      The other two stores were Real Canadian Superstore locations:

      • one employee last worked on December 13 at the 4700 Kingsway store at Metrotown in Burnaby;
      • another employee last worked on December 19 at the 14650 104th Avenue store in Surrey.

      There were 39 schools and one school bus route with new exposures. For full details, see this article

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.