Unnecessary travel and social gatherings are “fuelling the fire” of COVID-19 and its variants of concern, the province’s top doctor said Tuesday.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, reported 1,068 new cases of COVID-19, including 73 on the Island. There are 8,671 active cases and another 14,118 people under public health monitoring as a result of identified exposure to known cases. Another three people have died in the province, one of which was on the Island, for a total of 1,489.
Henry reported 207 new cases involving variants of concern for a total of 3,766.
Cases are surging, people are having more contacts, and more are ending up in hospital, Henry said at a media briefing.
“We know that much of this transmission is happening in younger people, so that means numbers of younger people in hospital has increased and numbers of younger people needing ICU care has increased, and that is concerning,” said Henry.
“It is because these variants transmit more easily that we are seeing more people becoming ill in those numbers of contacts that they’re having — and proportionally more people requiring hospitalization and critical care.”
There have been 912,056 doses of vaccine administered, 87,474 of which were second doses.
As of Tuesday, there were 352 new cases of COVID-19 in Vancouver Coastal, 492 in Fraser Health, 73 in Island Health, 106 in the Interior region, 43 people in Northern Health.
Henry reported 328 people were in hospital with the virus, 96 in critical or intensive care.
Most of the variants of concern are in Fraser Health where the U.K variant dominates, followed by Vancouver Coastal where the Brazil strain dominates. There have been 20 cases in total on the Island, including 13 of the U.K. strain, six of the Brazil strain, and one of the South African strain.
The median age of people who test positive for variants of concern is 35, said Dix.
Of the 328 people in hospital with COVID, 63 have been identified as having variants of concern, the majority of which, 42, are the U.K. variant and 20 the Brazil variant.
The U.K. strain is dominant, said Henry.
“It is found all over B.C., in much smaller numbers outside of the Lower Mainland, but it certainly is being found everywhere.”
In Ontario, about 60 per cent off all new cases have the U.K. strain “and we’re probably a month or so behind Ontario in getting there. … It’s the way viruses evolve over time.”
There have not been new cases of the South African variant in some time, said Henry.
“Let’s ensure we don’t lose any more ground,” said Henry, asking people to stick to their household contacts and if seeing others to do so outside, and to keep groups small.
On March 29, the province hit the pause button on AstraZeneca vaccinations for those under age 55, delaying a rollout for hundreds of thousands frontline workers including teachers and grocery store workers.
The province didn’t want to hold up use of the AstraZeneca vaccine and decided to offer the vaccine to those 55 to 65 through pharmacies in the Lower Mainland.
Health Canada asked for more study of the AstraZenea vaccine following a possible link to vaccine induced rare blood clots reported in Europe.
In the meantime, the province is working on extending its distribution of AstraZeneca on the Lower Mainland to those 55 to 65 years of age. That program is destined to roll out this week for other parts of the province, including Victoria, Parksville and Nanaimo.
“We expect by Thursday or Friday of this week vaccine will be in those communities at participating pharmacies and ready for administration to those aged 55 to 65,” said Dix.
Information on participating pharmacies will be provided by health authorities and the B.C. Pharmacy Association, “so stay tuned for that,” he said.
Public health officials are looking at whether essential workers can be streamed through pharmacies where the AstraZeneca will be distributed. “We will be looking at that in the next little while,” said Henry.