B.C. is no longer seeing the low COVID-19 case numbers the province was reporting back in June.
On Monday, the province reported 131 cases over 72 hours, for a total of 4,065 cases in British Columbia. The total number of active cases rose to 445, a number that has tripled since July 1.
The spike comes during phase three of B.C.’s restart plan, as more restrictions are eased.
“Part of it is, yes, growing lockdown fatigue,” said Steven Taylor, a psychiatry professor at the University of British Columbia and clinical psychologist.
“People can’t wait to get out and socialize and they hear restrictions are being eased and people are like ‘Oh, yay, let’s go out and party!'”
Another potential reason is a sense of unreality because of how removed people can be from the pandemic, he explained, since not everyone knows someone who has been directly affected.
“The pandemic is kind of invisible, we don’t see corpses piled up in the streets, we don’t see coffins or hearses,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of an abstract pandemic where we hear most of it through the news or media.”
Many of the new cases are younger people under 40. The transmission of COVID-19 tends to occur in closed spaces with prolonged contact, according to Réka Gustafson, deputy provincial health officer and vice president of public health at Provincial Health Services Authority.
That makes indoor parties where guests may not know all attendees particularly concerning, Gustafson said, adding there are still ways to interact with each other, including outdoor events.
“There are ways to make sure we connect with each other safely, but really [we should be] avoiding those gatherings indoors,” she said.
Even with the spike in cases, however, Gustafson said going back to stricter measures like phase one or two is not going to happen.
“It is unlikely we will find ourselves in a situation where we have to impose any of those because many of those things done in a context of not knowing what to expect,” she explained.
Those were broad societal restrictions that were put in place because officials didn’t know what COVID-19 would be like. They were particularly concerned, she added, about transmission during casual contact, like dining in at a restaurant.
“There’s things we’ve learned about COVID-19 since those broad restrictions were imposed,” she explained. “We know that early testing, case identification and contact management are successful. They can work.”
Contact tracing, for example, doesn’t work as well for other diseases. The time between someone gets exposed to when they get sick is very short in some illnesses, but for COVID-19, Gustafson explained, it’s longer.
“COVID-19 has a relatively long incubation period, so it’s well suited for contact tracing,” she said. “What we need to do rather than focus on broad societal restrictions, is do what we know works and do it well and do it consistently.”
That means looking at the types of events where transmissions are occurring and altering guidelines around them if need be. That’s what they did with nightclubs, Gustafson said.
The only time they would have to re-impose restrictions in phase one or two, she added, would be if the province had broad community transmission, rather than traceable transmission (which is what the province has now).
Broad community transmission would include people getting sick without knowing where they caught the virus. Gustafson said we haven’t seen this in the province, and it’s something she doesn’t expect to see.