Gatherings restricted in Northern Health as COVID-19 cases spike; 66 new cases on Island

New restrictions on gatherings will come into effect in the Northern Health region on Tuesday as COVID-19 cases “explode” in many communities in that region, with a multi-fold increase in cases since July and more than 100 new cases on Thursday.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said rapid spread in Prince George, Vanderhoof and Fort St. James, mostly stemming from social gatherings and interactions, is stretching the health-care system. “And for that reason we’re going to be taking additional measures.”

Personal gatherings in Northern Health homes are now limited to one additional family or five people and a maximum of 50 people outside. Similar regional restrictions were introduced for Interior Health last month. For organized outside events of more than 200, as well as indoor and outdoor sports events with spectators, COVID-19 safety plans need to be in place.

Henry said she is confident the added steps — in addition to the current mask mandate in indoor public spaces in the province and the vaccine passport to come into effect Sept. 13 — will help reduce transmission and hospitalizations.

More than 90 per cent of those in intensive care with COVID-19 in the Northern Health Authority have not been vaccinated, said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix..

The health minister said the majority of people who are unvaccinated are under age 55. Since the upcoming B.C. vaccine card was announced, first-dose vaccinations have increased in the Northern Health and Interior Health regions, said Dix. But he said more people must be fully vaccinated to reduce transmissions.

Henry said outbreaks started in the beginning of August with some in large industrial camps across the north. While that has slowed, she said transmission has taken off in some communities with lower rates of vaccination, including the Nechako, Fort St. James, Vanderhoof and Prince George areas.

“It has spread very rapidly, particularly in the last 10 days,” she said.

“We’ve seen six times increased rate of transmission just in a very short period of time that has led to hospitalization and filling up of our ICUs across the north.”

By Thursday, 84 per cent of eligible people age 12 and older in B.C. had received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 76 per cent were fully vaccinated.

B.C. reported 801 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including 66 in Island Health. Of 5,931 active cases in the province, 541 are in Island Health.

On Thursday, 199 individuals were in hospital with COVID-19, of whom 116 were in intensive care. In Island Health, 15 people were in hospital, of whom 12 were in the ICU.

All six new deaths reported on Thursday were in Interior Health, for a total of 1,824 in the province.

There are 20 outbreaks in health-care facilities in the province, including an outbreak at Sunset Lodge in Vic West where 34 people have been infected, including 20 residents and 14 staff.

In late August, those people who are not fully vaccinated made up the majority of new cases and hospitalizations.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

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