The latest modelling data released by B.C. health officials suggests transmission of COVID-19 is not a major issue in schools, but variants of concern now make up the bulk of new cases in the province.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry released the latest data on Thursday in a news conference with Health Minister Adrian Dix.
The data showed what most have already known, that there has been a sharp increase in the number of overall cases and hospitalizations in March into April.
“This has led, along with the fact that we have higher transmissible variants of the virus circulating in communities, to a dramatic increase,” Henry said. “We are starting to see a slight blunting of that.”
One piece of good news, she said, is that there has been a dramatic decrease in the rates of death, coinciding with the rollout of the province’s COVID-19 immunization plan, Henry said.
Henry said high test positivity rates are still being driven by the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health zones.
Variants of concern are now making up around 60 per cent of all positive cases in B.C., while in the Vancouver Island health region, that number is closer to 50 per cent, with the majority being the B.1.1.7, or U.K. variant.
On a provincial level, the U.K. variant makes up about 50 per cent of all variant of concern cases, while the P.1. or Brazil variant roughly makes up the other half.
Henry also released data showing that while COVID-19 cases in the community have surged in recent weeks, school transmissions have remained low.
“Overall, we still have a relatively low infection rate amongst school children relative to their proportion of the population, and that’s particularly true in ages 5 to 12,” she said.
There have been no deaths in school-aged children and only about one in 200 students infected with COVID-19 are being hospitalized compared to about one in 20 for adults over 19.
Henry said less than one per cent of students and staff in schools had COVID-19 cases between September and December.
The slight bumps seen in COVID-19 cases in school-age children happen to coincide with major holiday breaks like Christmas and spring break, Henry said.
According to Henry, the data shows that the structured system in schools combined with COVID-19 safety protocols are working.
“Student and staff cases follow the trends in the community, but when they’re in the structured school environment, the rates of transmission are much, much less,” she said.
“I know there’s a lot of talk of ‘we need to close schools to stop transmission in the community,’ and we’re not seeing that as an issue,” she said.
Meanwhile, the age categories of 19-39 and 40-59 have been driving the dramatic increase of cases seen over the last month or so, but Henry said health officials are starting to see a slight bend in the curve.
She also said the province’s circuit-breaker restrictions introduced nearly three weeks ago have likely helped in slowing down the spread among those age groups.
The province will also continue to focus on halting transmission of the virus in workplace settings like restaurants, bars and gyms where transmissions have remained high, though an expected extension on the indoor dining and group fitness ban was not announced Thursday.
A study of workplace transmissions in Vancouver Coastal Health between February and March shows the bulk of clusters and cases have been in restaurants, bars and lounges, fitness studios and gyms, and then a smattering of cases in other workplaces.