According to new modelling data presented Tuesday, the number of daily COVID-19 cases recorded in British Columbia could reach record levels by late September under a “moderate transmission” scenario.
A projection shared by Dr. Bonnie Henry, a provincial health officer showed the number of reported COVID-19 cases could reach an estimated 1,200 daily by Sept 27, depending on transmission and vaccination rates.
April 18 was B.C.’s record for the most cases announced in a single day, which was 1,293.
Under the most optimistic scenario presented, daily case numbers would eventually fall below 500 in the middle of the month. Over the past week, the region has recorded a daily average of 683 cases.
The gradual progress health officials are hoping for relies largely on rising vaccination numbers, especially in the Interior Health and Northern Health areas, where pockets of unvaccinated populations have seen a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases this summer.
Henry emphasized that immunization remains overwhelmingly effective at preventing hospitalization and transmission, describing the region‘s current situation as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“Primarily what we’re seeing is people who are fully vaccinated have a very low and stable case rate across the age groups. This tells us that vaccines work, regardless of the variant that’s been spreading,” she revealed, referring to the highly infectious Delta strain that now dominates in Canada.
According to B.C.’s statistics, when adjusted for age differences, the unvaccinated are 12 times likely to get COVID-19 compared to those who have gotten both doses of vaccine, and 35 times likelier to require hospitalization if infected.
There are breakthrough cases, but, and those are especially troubling when they affect elderly individuals whose bodies are less capable of mounting a strong defence against the virus after immunization, Henry stated.
That heightened vulnerability reveals why 39 percent of deaths recorded between July 30 and Aug. 26 involved people who were fully vaccinated.
“Deaths continue to occur primarily among older people – they are most at risk.“
“We had 33 deaths in that month, and a third of them were in people who were in long-term care.”
By comparison, the fully immunized constituted just 15 percent of cases and 13 percent of hospitalizations across the same period.
However, some areas are trailing far behind the rest of B.C. when it comes to vaccinations, including many local health regions within Northern Health where less than 50 percent of the eligible population had gotten the first dose by Aug. 23.
Immunization rates remain lower than average in multiple areas of Interior Health as well. Henry acknowledged the health authority region has accounted for an estimated 50 percent of the cases recorded since July 1, despite representing only 15 percent of B.C.’s population.
Health officials stated there is reason to be optimistic. Coronavirus’ reproductive rate – which measures how many additional infections are caused by each new case – has fallen to 1.1, after nearing 1.5 at the end of July.
“It still means that for every person infected, they’re passing it on to one other person and that means our trajectory is going to be continuing,” Henry stated. “What we want to do is be able to reduce those infectious contacts – so the chances we’re going to transmit to somebody else – and bring it down below one.”
The administration began implementing local COVID-19 stipulations in the Interior Health region early this month and has since brought back a region-wide mask mandate. Officials have also reported an encouraging increase in immunization registrations since the announcement of a vaccine passport system, which is planned to begin being phased in on Sept. 13.
Without any immunization at all, B.C.’s case numbers would be shooting to upwards of 2,000 per day in early September, according to the modelling. Hospitalizations would also rise by more than 100 patients daily.
Going forward, Henry revealed the administration will only be presenting modelling projections that extend one month into the future.
The provincial health officer pointed to the previous modelling from June that underestimated the chances of case numbers rising into another significant wave.
“Models help us understand what are the important things that we need to pay attention to, and they can tell you what may happen but none of them can tell you what will happen,” she stated.
“And much of it depends on the measures we put in place, how effective those measures are, and our own behaviour.”