VICTORIA — An increasing number of younger people in British Columbia are becoming infected with COVID-19 and some are dying, just as vaccines are protecting older populations, the provincial health officer said Monday.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said younger patients who are ending up in intensive care units need more time there, in part because of clusters of cases in some communities.
"We saw that with some of the outbreaks that were happening in First Nations communities where people at a younger age were much more likely to need hospitalization or critical care. And sadly, where we've seen younger people die from the virus."
COVID-19 is spreading through crowded households and workplaces as cases rise among people between the ages of 20 and 39, and up to age 59, Henry said.
"With a higher number of people in that age group being affected, the probability that somebody is going to end up in hospital at a younger age goes up," she said, adding some people who have been hospitalized have underlying health conditions.
Indoor gatherings, even with people having minimal contact, should be avoided as the variant first identified in the United Kingdom becomes more prevalent, transmitting COVID-19 easily as it spreads, Henry said.
"The only safe place for us to gather now in our small groups, with our friends and families, is outside," she said of her public health order limiting gathering numbers to 10 and among people who must stick to the same group.
"I'm calling on all of us again to go back to our basics. This is not the time to be getting together even with a small group of friends. This is not the time to have that wedding. Put it off. Put it off to the summer and we will be a different place, a post-pandemic place.
"We are seeing things increasing, whether it's the end of our second wave or the beginning of the third, it is worrisome."
The province has recorded 1,785 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, including 166 more cases of variants of concern, predominantly the one first identified in the United Kingdom.
Another 16 people have died, for a total of 1,437 deaths since the pandemic began.
Henry said establishments hosting weddings and similar events will be held accountable for putting their employees and others at risk.
She also called on businesses to continue having safety plans in place regardless of whether owners or employees have been vaccinated.
"It takes time for that to come into effect. And it takes time when we have this much transmission in our community," she said, adding businesses with ongoing transmission could be closed for at least 10 days.
"For all of us, don't let up now. And if you are blatantly disregarding those public health orders, there are ramifications for that."
Health officials have been meeting with religious leaders to finalize plans for the resumption of outdoor services with an announcement expected in the coming days, Henry said.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said about 540,000 doses of vaccine have been administered as the province uses the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to prioritize workers most at risk of contracting COVID-19 while its parallel age-based plan is ahead of schedule.
People in their 70s are currently eligible to book appointments.
— By Camille Bains in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2021.