Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 911 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, another record-breaking daily count. The bulk of those cases are in the Fraser Health region, but Island Health saw 27 new cases.
Many of the new COVID cases on Vancouver Island have been in the central Island, where the count grew more than 600 per cent from Nov. 10 to Nov. 20. Of the 183 active cases on Vancouver Island, 112 are in the central Island region, with 45 in the south and 26 in the north.
The central Island was seeing an alarming number of cases, said Dr. Sandra Allison, acting medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, which includes Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum, Qualicum Beach, Bamfield, Bowser, Gabriola Island, Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet.
The majority of infections were traced to multi-generational social gatherings, mainly around Halloween. People were getting together beyond their household bubbles to eat, drink and socialize, said Allison.
Central Island health officials used multiple forms of media to get out the message that cases in the region were surging and residents needed to keep their bubbles small. An Island Health message on Twitter said: “Hey Central Island, we need your help” and asked people to stick within their household bubble, wash hands often, wear a mask in indoor public spaces and avoid non-essential travel.
“As the result of a large amount of team effort, we were able to identify and isolate those cases until they developed symptoms and became cases themselves and that resulted in this very large peak [of cases],” Allison said.
The Central Island has since not seen a sustained increase in those numbers. “We suspect that with the efforts of those two weeks that we were able to contain those cases,” said Allison. “We believe our communities are paying attention now. I’m not seeing the sustained numbers that we saw over those past two weeks.”
The rest of the province, however, is facing a pandemic “storm surge,” Henry said, as it cracks the 30,000 mark for total cases to date.
There are 301 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 69 in intensive care.
Henry appealed to everyone from fitness-studio patrons to church, gurdwara and temple goers to respect restrictions on social gatherings, which are in effect until Dec. 7.
She said outbreaks have occurred in indoor settings such as churches and temples because of social gatherings before, during or after events.
As for indoor fitness activities such as yoga, gymnastics and dance classes, which are on hold, Henry said she hopes to have guidance and new orders by the end of next week.
“Our teams have been looking at the evidence about this and looking at the situation around the world and to make sure we get things right, so that when they restart, it can be done safely,” said Henry. “It has turned out to be more complex than we realized.”
There are currently 59 outbreaks in B.C. health care facilities, 54 of which are in long-term care.
On Friday, another 11 deaths were announced, for a total of 395 deaths in the province. Most of the people who have died were living in long-term care, said Henry.
Noting ongoing tension over a mandatory mask order for indoor public spaces, stores and shared areas in workplaces, Henry asked those who prefer not to wear a mask to consider shopping online, ordering in food, staying outside and staying at home.
Henry compared the province’s mandatory mask order to wearing a seatbelt or bike helmet, or following speed limits.
“This is something that you do to protect yourself and to protect others,” she said. “It’s a layer of protection for everybody and a courtesy to those around you.”