B.C. contact rates around 'the threshold' for rebound in COVID-19 cases, modelling suggests
VANCOUVER -- New pandemic modelling suggests that while B.C. managed to keep its COVID-19 caseload after easing restrictions, personal contact rates are at "roughly the threshold for a rebound" in new infections.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the updated data released Tuesday is not necessarily cause for alarm, but a reminder that the public must continue acting responsibly and maintaining the delicate balance required to prevent a spike in cases.
"These models show we are increasing our contacts, and we know that, but we're doing it in a safe way," Henry said.
"We need to stay where we are, where we're having safe contacts and we're not seeing dramatic increases in new cases."
That's especially true as the province looks forward to Phase 3 of its pandemic response, which is expected to lead to increased travel within B.C. and more team sports.
Officials said it's crucial that people bring their good habits with them when they go on vacation this summer.
"If we go to visit Vancouver Island, (that means) making sure that we're doing the same things that we do at home – that we're being respectful of the community, that we're not overcrowding places, that we're not gathering in large groups," Henry said.
The latest modelling estimates that B.C. residents are seeing 60 to 65 per cent of their pre-pandemic contacts, up from about 30 per cent before the province launched Phase 2 in mid-May.
Henry said 65 per cent is approximately what officials expected to see when they loosened the rules, and noted the lack of a major increase in cases indicates people have taken the necessary precautions while expanding their social circles.
But since restrictions were relaxed, allowing more businesses to open and for people to see more friends and family again, there has been a slight uptick in infections.
The data also indicates it's possible the province could see "continued growth of new cases during the summer." Dr. Henry said if people increase their personal contacts much more, reaching as much as 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, B.C. would likely see a "rapid rebound' in infections.
For now, there is much cause for celebration in the modelling.
Updated geographic data shows just how much progress has been made battling the virus in huge swaths of the province.
The Fraser East region is the only part of British Columbia that has seen more than 15 cases per 100,000 population over the past two weeks, and several jurisdictions along the coast, in the Interior and on Vancouver Island have stayed at zero.
The modelling also includes updated comparisons in case rates and fatality rates between B.C. and other jurisdictions. Once again, British Columbia is shown to have seen far more success dealing with the pandemic than most other places in Canada and internationally.
The comparison also shows the United States, Brazil and Sweden continuing to record an alarming increase in cases – and the situation globally could still pose a potential risk at home.
B.C.'s data shows that while the number of new cases linked to international travel has plummeted, there still are some "imported" cases.
"We continue to have cases, primarily in Canadians and people from B.C., who are returning from countries around the world – including, most recently, India," Henry said.
Some of those cases emerged in people who finally managed to come home on repatriation flights.
Henry said the province's robust contact-tracing team is crucial in keeping the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum, by nipping potential outbreaks in the bud early and ensuring everyone who potentially came into contact with the virus is aware and can respond appropriately.
Officials are not planning to lift the ban on events over 50 people any time soon, she said, as anything greater would compromise their ability to contact-trace fast enough to be effective.
"Somebody brings (the virus) inadvertently into a wedding or a celebration or a party with 50 people, we know that a good portion of those people with that type of close contact may become infected, and what we don't want is for them all to go out and infect other people," Henry said.
"With 50 people, we know most of those people, we can find them quickly."
While contract tracing is an important tool, keeping B.C.'s caseload low – which allows officials to continue easing restrictions – also relies on people taking personal responsibility. That includes being thoughtful about how much socializing they do, maintaining good hygiene and staying home while sick.
Read through the provincial health officer's presentation below.