British Columbia will likely see a gradual increase in COVID-19 cases over the next month, according to the province’s top doctor.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, unveiled new modelling data Tuesday that offered a peek at how the COVID-19 situation could play out in B.C. in September.
In what the provincial government calls a “low transmission” scenario, B.C. could see anywhere from 450 to under 1,500 cases a day by the end of September, depending on whether vaccinations increase. Hospitalizations, under the scenario, could either increase to somewhere under 50 people per day or decrease to nearly zero.
Under a “moderate transmission” scenario, B.C. could see anywhere from around 500 to over 1,500 new cases per day, depending on the level of vaccinations. Hospitalizations, could either be around 25 people per day or hit nearly 75 people per day by the end of September.
Either way, in both scenarios, Henry said there will be a steady increase in cases but the rate of transmission will be lower than it was in previous waves.
“We are likely to see a gradually steady increasing number of cases over the next month, and slightly increasing hospitalizations over the next month,” said Henry. “But not at the rate that we were seeing — our daily maximum — during the second and third waves of the pandemic and that is because of the protection that we are seeing from immunization.”
Henry said that even a small increase in the number of people who get vaccinated in the coming days and weeks vaccinated could and would make a “tremendous” difference in the number of cases and hospitalizations.
“That small incremental increase in immunizations means that will level off and hospitalizations will level off,” she said.
According to new data released by the province on Tuesday, nearly half of all COVID-19 infections in the past month have occurred within the Interior Health region, with those aged 19 to 39 driving the spike. Case rates among unvaccinated individuals are 10 times higher than among those who are fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals accounted for 70 per cent of all cases and 81 per cent of all hospitalizations between July 30 and Aug. 26 in British Columbia.
“This is a pandemic that is spreading rapidly amongst pockets of people who are unvaccinated. We see this very clearly in the cases per hundred thousand and in the hospitalizations,” said Henry. “For people who are fully vaccinated, so having two doses of vaccine, that level has been low and steady and hospitalizations have been low.”
Henry also said with data clearly showing that unvaccinated individuals are at a much higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated, it’s important for everyone who has not been vaccinated to get their shot.
“That is important and that can make a difference in getting back to those things that we need to do in our lives,” she said.
In addition to getting vaccinated, Henry said the most important actions people can take right now are basically the same measures officials have been preaching from the beginning — wearing a mask when in indoor close-contact settings, staying home if sick, and washing hands regularly.
“This has been a long 20 months and we are walking … a fine line, between balancing the risk of COVID and the disruption to society that this pandemic has caused and we see that in so many parts of our society,” she said.
Lifting restrictions resulted in increased transmissions
On July 1, B.C. lifted restrictions on gathering and indoor masking requirements within public spaces for those who had been fully vaccinated. Henry said cases were low at the time and the trajectory was low until mid-July, which is when things began to change.
“We were following along a very low trajectory until the middle of July, when we started to see this increase,” she said. “This increase, as I mentioned, is driven primarily by the lower rates of immunization and the really dramatically higher rates of infectious contacts … primarily in the Interior Health.”
Henry said officials could not have predicted such a dramatic spike in cases back in June and early July when they opted to loosen restrictions.
“What we are seeing now is that we were at a place where we had a lot of transmissions, where we were up at about 1.5, which means for every person who was infected, they passed it on to almost two other people.”
Although cases have soared in recent weeks — the Island Health region added over 1,100 new infections in less than a month — Henry said the province’s infection rate has come down slightly in recent weeks.
“It’s around that, we’ve seen a leveling off of our case numbers, but it still means that for every person infected they are passing it to one other person and that means that our trajectory is going to be continuing,” she said.
Going forward, the goal remains the same: reducing infectious contacts, and flattening the curve.
“What we want to be able to do is reduce those infectious contacts — so the chances that we are going to transmit to somebody else — and bring it down below one and that way the outbreak will be fading away,” said Henry.