The strict health orders issued in B.C. in November appear to have successfully bent the COVID-19 curve in the province, B.C. Health Officer Bonnie Henry said Wednesday.
Numbers continue to rise, however. For the last 24 hours, B.C. recorded 518 new cases of COVID-19, with more than half again coming from the Fraser Health region (332). Meanwhile, Vancouver Coastal Health saw 97 new cases, with nine more in Island Health, 49 in Interior Health and 31 in Northern Health.
There are currently 9,137 active cases in the province, with 348 patients in hospital while 80 people are in the ICU receiving treatment. Another 9,689 are under active health monitoring (although that number currently does not include Northern Health figures due to ongoing data migration).
Henry also said there have been another 19 deaths, bringing the death count up to 796.
According to what Henry presented on the province’s COVID trajectory for December, the infection contact rate index has now fallen below 1 – meaning each infected person is in turn infecting one person or fewer.
That number, Henry said, is the difference between the COVID curve skyrocketing versus plateauing and falling over the next month.
“That’s where we are now, which means what we are doing is working,” Henry said of the stricter restrictions introduced in November. “But we cannot let up… It doesn’t mean we are out of the woods.
“We have bent our curve slightly. But we need to be cautious, because it would not take much to get us back into the danger zone.”
According to the data released Wednesday, both the daily new cases number and the 7-day moving average of new cases peaked in mid-November, with the vast majority of the COVID cases this year being linked to known local cases and clusters.
The recent spike saw the biggest increase in the 20-29 age group in terms of new COVID cases, Henry said, while the two sets of new restrictions (introduced in the week of Nov. 4 and Nov. 18) has lead to a drop in new cases across all regions and demographics after two weeks – the maximum incubation period of the COVID virus inside an infected person before symptoms manifest.
Henry said the province has paid specific attention to the impact of the virus on schools and its population of students. The December trajectory showed that – of the 120,000 children and staff in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region – only about 600 have tested positive for the virus, leading to only 200 cases of exposures and zero outbreaks.
Most of the cases of transmission have happened between adult staff members at the school, Henry added.
“The data shows us that we are not seeing schools as a place where transmission takes place widely,” she said. “That tells us that when the safety protocols that are place in schools are followed, it is a very safe environment – and transmission is very unlikely.”
Henry also issued a new provincial health order, calling for a phased re-start of work camps on projects in Northern B.C. in January as workers return from the holidays. The details of how the phased startup will work have not yet been released.
“[The nature of camp startup] means there are workers travelling to and from camp,” Henry said. “January sees an influx of people from not only within the province but also from outside B.C. Right now, we know Northern Health is stretched. We are already seeing small communities under strain, and the new order ensures we can maintain services in those communities.”
Wednesday also saw two additional outbreaks at long-term care facilities: White Rock’s Evergreen Baptist Health Centre and Richmond’s Minoru Residences. That, along with two outbreaks declared over, kept the number of active outbreaks in the province at 55, with 1,414 residents affected to date.
With the holiday season taking place, Henry again reminded retailers to enforce safety rules and keep the consumers safe, while also telling the general public to continue to exercise caution in wearing masks, washing hands and practicing social distancing while limiting in-person contact to the smallest possible number.
“As we know, the modelling has shown the actions we are taking are working,” Henry said. “I know the orders and the restrictions are difficult. But we also know we have learned… when we don’t have gatherings, when we wash our hands, when we wear our masks, when we stay home when we are ill, when we work from home as much as possible and we make sure to follow our COVID safety plans in all settings, we can reduce and stop the transmission of this virus.”
In pandemic politics, timing is everything – Winnipeg Free Press
Premier Brian Pallister said a disruption in the supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a good example of why Manitoba has been slow and cautious in its COVID-19 immunization rollout.
Government was prepared for this kind of bump in the road, he said.
However, according to the province’s own figures, Manitoba was falling behind its own vaccine schedule long before the Pfizer vaccine slowdown was announced.
Pfizer-BioNTech confirmed Friday it plans to delay some vaccine shipments (including to Canada) in the coming weeks to retool its manufacturing plants. Company officials said they expect to catch up by the end of March.
There are no details on how it will affect shipments to the provinces. But there will be a temporary reduction in doses.
Given how far behind Manitoba is in its immunization program, that slowdown may not make much of a difference.
But it does give the Pallister government political cover; the slower the shipments over the next few weeks, the easier it will be to catch up.
“I think this backs up our strategy,” Pallister said Friday. “Our vaccination team has focused a little less on trying to get good, short-term stats by rushing everything out and a little more on better, long-term protections by holding something back.”
Not exactly. The provincial government expressed confidence in the supply chain two weeks ago, announcing there was no longer any need to hold back 50 per cent of doses for followup booster shots.
“I think this backs up our strategy. Our vaccination team has focused a little less on trying to get good, short-term stats by rushing everything out and a little more on better, long-term protections by holding something back.”
— Premier Brian Pallister
Officials argued, rightly, there was enough certainty in the supply chain to rely on future shipments for second doses. They said they would maintain enough supply to meet demand for the following week. Beyond that, there was no plan to build up large inventories.
The province has fallen behind since then. The Pfizer delay buys time to catch up, while claiming plans were always in place for this. That’s why, late Friday, there was an announcement of a pause in new vaccination appointments (even though Pfizer shipments are still coming; there are just going to be fewer of them).
Pallister’s comments make for great political rhetoric, but they collide with the facts.
Manitoba has administered 13,539 doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines since the immunization program began in December. The total number of vaccines received to date is 38,890. If all 5,300 doses sent to First Nations earlier this month have been used, it means only 48 per cent of doses have been injected so far. Manitoba was scheduled to receive 7,400 doses of Moderna this week. If those doses have arrived (the province refuses to confirm when it receives shipments), only 41 per cent of doses have been administered. The rest are sitting in freezers.
Nowhere in the Pallister government’s vaccine rollout plan did it say the province planned to stockpile that much inventory in case of a supply disruption.
Part of the reason for Manitoba’s slow rollout is the delay in getting vaccines to residents of personal-care homes. The province had enough inventory to start that program in early January, but didn’t begin until Monday. In a pandemic, every day matters.
The plan is to immunize an estimated 9,834 care-home residents over 28 days. The target for the first week was 1,157, but the number has fallen well short. As of Thursday, only 281 residents had received injections.
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin would not provide any explanation for the low number Friday, other than to say there will be more updates next week.
To meet the federal government’s original shipment estimates for January and February (which will now change), Manitoba would have to administer almost 2,400 doses a day.
But just 1,130 people, including care-home residents, were vaccinated between Wednesday and Friday.
The province just can’t seem to get this program off the ground. But now there’s an excuse.
It remains unclear when the Pfizer doses will be delayed, or by how much. But politically, this could be a blessing in disguise for the Pallister government.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.
Province claims residents seeing light at end of the COVID-19 tunnel – Nanaimo News NOW
The optimistic statement from the province comes as the vaccine rollout suffered a blow.
Pfizer ran into production trouble while upgrading their facility, which the province admitted will create a short-term delay in the delivery of some vaccines.
Earlier on Friday, health minister Adrian Dix said the shortage will have a significant effect in February and March when only half of the 50,000 doses expected will be delivered.
Dix said this may mean public health officials will revisit leaving 35 days between the first and second dose of the vaccine, instead of the 21 to 28 days recommended by the World Health Organization. The gap was extended in an effort to provide more of the first dose to more people.
There was good news in Dr. Henry’s statement, which confirmed 509 new COVID-19 cases with 4,604 considered active. This is a decrease of roughly two hundred in two days.
Hospitalizations dipped to 349 with the number of people in critical care at its lowest point since November.
Island Health saw 13 new cases, with 175 considered active. This is a drop of more than 20 cases in two days. Ten people are in hospital for their symptoms including two receiving critical care.
The central Vancouver Island area remains the most affected in the health authority, with roughly two thirds of all active cases.
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COVID-19: B.C. health officials report 509 new cases, nine additional deaths – Vancouver Sun
Article content continued
Henry and Dix confirmed a new outbreak at Hilltop House, a residential care facility in Squamish.
Total outbreaks in B.C.’s health-care system remain unchanged, however, as the outbreak at Villa Cathay, a downtown Vancouver nursing home, has been declared over.
The outbreak at Wingtat Game Bird Packers, a Surrey poultry plant where at least 30 workers tested positive for the coronavirus in December, has been declared over as well.
“People throughout British Columbia are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” Henry and Dix said. “As of today, thousands of people working and living in long-term care homes, health-care workers and those in remote or at-risk Indigenous communities have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
As well, health officials confirmed a short-term delay in the delivery of some Pfizer vaccines, due to upgrades at the pharmaceutical company’s production facility.
“We are working closely with the federal government to determine how this might impact our immunization rollout in the immediate term, and we will have more to share in the coming days,” they said.
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