The number of daily COVID-19 cases in British Columbia has tripled over the past three weeks, meanwhile the delta variant has grown to become the most prevalent strain in the province.
Based on what has happened in Israel, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and many other countries with similar vaccination campaigns where the variant has taken hold, the number of positive cases in British Columbia may soon approach the heights of the second and third waves.
Relatively high vaccination rates mean the province is unlikely to see a significant number of deaths or hospitalizations – but experts say the latest numbers are a clear sign that the epidemic is not over in BC.
“We do have really high vaccination rates, but it’s not even across the province,” said Sally Otto, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and a COVID-19 model.
“Communities with low levels of vaccinations are really vulnerable to this virus, because this virus is very good at transmission,” she said. “It’s like a fire, and those places that have less fire protection are at a much greater risk.”
The majority of cases are now outside the lower mainland
Just like the actual wildfires in British Columbia, COVID-19 cases in the province are currently concentrated in the interior. It has more than half of the daily and active cases, despite having about 15 percent of the entire population.
Nearly 80 percent of eligible adults get their first dose in Metro Vancouver and most communities on Vancouver Island, and nearly 50 to 75 percent have it in the rest of the province.
“It is not … a large number of individuals from outside the county are driving the increase in the number of cases,” said Dr. Silvina Mima, a medical health officer in the Department of Homeland Health.
“It’s the people who live in British Columbia, indoors. They’re young people…and many of them work in the hospitality industry: restaurants, fitness studios, clothing companies, bars – these kinds of businesses are affected.”
Younger people in the hospitality industries were generally at risk of contracting the virus and spreading it throughout the pandemic.
But the combination of relaxed restrictions and greater transmission of the delta variant has its greatest effect so far in regions with low vaccination rates.
“There are some pockets of people who are hesitating about the vaccine, not yet trusting the vaccine, and we have seen that … in some communities in both the interior and north,” the regional health official said. Dr. Bonnie Henry at a press conference on Tuesday, where a new, more targeted phase of the vaccination campaign was announced.
The first doses are continuous
But Dr. Henry admitted that part of the challenge was getting the vaccine to everyone who wanted it in the interior and northern regions, especially in less densely populated areas.
“It was frustrating,” said Ashley Postnikov, who lives about 25 kilometers west of Nelson and was booked for her first vaccination this week.
She initially said she did not receive an email asking her to register, followed by weeks of trying to book an appointment online with no available places.
Postnikov said she understands concerns about vaccination rates indoors, but she hopes people won’t paint the area with a brush that’s too wide.
“We are not all anti-vaccination,” she said.
“I’m glad to have it, especially with numbers booming here again. Seeing…how people resist wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands, and following the rules, it’s scary now and I’ve gotten to the point where I desperately want to get in.”
There are a lot of people like Postnikoff in British Columbia, as evidenced by the fact that the province has seen between 4,000 and 10,000 first doses that are still being administered for weeks now.
In the short term at least, it is unlikely to stop the increase.
“I think there was some wishful thinking going on here in British Columbia that we might have survived,” said Otto, who warned that the high case number could spread to Metro Vancouver as well with current vaccination numbers.
“I hope people will take this as a wake-up call.”