By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter

One trend public health officials watch is the time it takes for new COVID-19 cases to double. By late summer, new daily cases had doubled from April’s peak. About two months later, new daily cases had doubled again. The current doubling time of new daily cases is estimated at 13 days. /Graphic: BC Centre for Disease Control

As cases escalate and the pandemic curve swerves skyward again, the Province’s top health officer is calling on British Columbians to rein in their socializing to protect those most at risk and ease the burden on contact tracers.

“A lot of the focus of transmission in our communities… is because of our social interactions,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in a Nov. 12 briefing.

New daily cases surpassed 650 people for the first time by mid-November and the latest data from the BC Centre for Disease Control modelling indicated new cases were doubling every 13 days.

On Oct. 30, there were 272 new cases; on Nov. 13, there were 617 new cases. At this trajectory, new cases will surpass 1,200 a day by December.

Also troubling for public health officials are increases in hospitalization and outbreaks healthcare facilities, Henry said.

On Nov. 16, there were a total of 181 people in hospital, including 57 people in ICU, with nine of those in Northern Health. On Oct. 30, there were 78 people in hospital, including 25 people in ICU.

“We’re starting to see spill over into long term care homes,” said Henry. “That’s our signal. It’s time to step back.”

As of Nov. 16, there were 41 active outbreaks in long-term care, assisted-living facilities, and seven outbreaks in acute care hospital wards. In the north, one outbreak occurred in Dawson Creek, three in Interior Health, and the remainder in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal regions.

Two thirds of the 299 people who had died of COVID-19 as of Nov. 16, had contracted the virus in a healthcare facility. As of the same date, five people had died in northern B.C.

Of the nearly 23,000 total cases in B.C. by Nov. 16, 6,279 were active and another 11,000 people being monitored by public health after being exposed to the virus.

All of which was stretching contact tracing resources to “the max,” said Henry.

Despite the Province hiring more than 800 contact tracers this fall, new cases have nearly outpaced public health’s ability to contact people in a timely manner, particularly in the Fraser and Vancouver regions where 95 per cent of the new cases have occurred, said Henry.

As a result, new provincial health orders in both regions limited social interactions to household or closest contacts, restricted non-essential movement in and out of the areas, and temporarily suspended some types of fitness classes, among other measures.

Real life scenario
Henry revealed several real-life scenarios where a single person unintentionally caused a cascade of impacts on others.
In one instance, a person attended a fitness class causing 67 positive cases at two fitness studios. Those 67 people then passed the virus to 180 people at two additional fitness studios, along with another 37 other close contacts, who then gave it to seven more people, sending three further people to hospital. The 67 people also caused 6 school outbreaks, and four people to test positive at a correctional facility which, in turn, caused 80 people to have to self-isolate and remain home from work.

Sharing details of an actual case, Dr. Bonnie Henry explained how one wedding guest unknowingly exposed 50 other guests, triggering a domino of more than 30 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 200 people to self-isolate, including 80 residents of a long-term care facility. Ultimately, three people were admitted to hospital and one person died. /Graphic: BC Centre for Disease Control

Businesses should review their COVID-19 safety plans with the goal of reducing community transmission, said Henry. Individuals, too, should modify their behaviour, she said.

“Recently, we started to see young people, again, driving infection in the province, whether it’s through social interactions, primarily, (or) it’s through work interactions,” said Henry. “What we’re seeing now is spill over into older age groups where people are more vulnerable.”

After age 70, the risk of COVID-19 goes up dramatically, said Henry. “Most of our deaths have been in people who are in their 80s or 90s, our seniors and our elders.”

People over the age of 70 make up about nine per cent of the total COVID-19 cases, yet 84 per cent of those who have died have. Conversely, people in their 20s and 30s have accounted for 44 per cent of all cases, but none of the deaths.

Meanwhile, a promising vaccine is months away from use. After it is distributed to the most vulnerable, it will be more widely released.

That’s going to happen next year, said Henry. “But for us to get from here to there, we need to all of us take a deep breath (and) recognize that we can do this,” she said. “We know what we need to do. We know it works. And now’s our time to do it.”

Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / [email protected]