The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has followed through on a promise to publish information on neighbourhood infection and vaccination rates first leaked to journalists last week.
The leaked data prompted intense backlash from the public and the media, who had been asking for neighbourhood-level information for months.
Last week, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and her deputy Dr. Reka Gustafson defended their handling of the information, insisting much of it had already been made public and somewhat reluctantly agreeing to provide the internal information in a public forum going forward.
The internal documents, first leaked to Postmedia and now posted to the BCCDC website, went into greater detail than the weekly Situation Reports published by the BCCDC and included never-before-seen information on infection and vaccination rates on a neighbourhood level.
This week’s documents show infections have gone down in most of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods in north and west Surrey, with the rest of Surrey, south Burnaby, Delta, Richmond, North Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, Langley, central Maple Ridge, and Abbotsford all showing decreases.
Infections have increased in Vancouver’s Point Grey area, part of south-east Vancouver, West Vancouver, south Surrey, south Langley, Pitt Meadows and Mission, with the Newton area of Surrey continuing to worsen. The rest of the Lower Mainland remained largely unchanged.
“We’re seeing lower numbers across the province as the case numbers are dropping, and that’s fantastic,” said UBC biomathematics professor Sally Otto. “We’re seeing the hotspots which were dark purple (on the map) before, being more than 40 cases per 100,000 population in a lot of hotspots across the province, and now we’re seeing it ease up and lighten. We talk about the declining cases overall, but you can see that’s not true everywhere in the province.”
Henry said last week that Gustafson, who oversees the BCCDC, had been working on an interactive map to display the neighbourhood-level information, but that's not yet available.
Otto said the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, which includes independent data scientists and academics from UBC and SFU who have been advising public health officials on the trajectory of the pandemic, has suggested the province use local case numbers as part of a “COVID index.” Such an index would function much like a UV index in a weather report, giving people a sense of how cautious or free to be in different communities based on risk levels. She said the weekly heat maps could end up functioning as a de facto index.
"But let's not flip it around and say, ‘Oh, my area seems fine and I can break all the rules,’ because this disease just needs a little bit of an opening – people relaxing too much, getting together inside, particularly – and it just spreads like a fire, getting out of control,” Otto said. “So, everywhere has to be very cautious."
Vaccinations up but more needed
As of April 29, roughly half of the Lower Mainland was sitting under 40 per cent vaccination among adults, with the rest between 41 and 60 per cent. The latest map shows that, as of May 10, all but a small section of Vancouver and part of Richmond are over the 41 per cent threshold. A second, new map shows much of Surrey, Delta, the North Shore, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge have more than 80 per cent of residents 55 years old and older vaccinated, with 61-80 per cent for the rest of the region.
Two weeks ago, the BC COVID-19 modelling group warned that hospitalizations would remain high, urging the government to extend its current “circuit breaker” restrictions beyond the May Long weekend, after which they’re currently scheduled to expire. Otto says while overall infections are nearly half of what they were a month ago, hospitalizations are holding high and steady, so their recommendation stands.
“It’s a rosier picture than we were fearful of, but we certainly are not at a point where we can relax,” she said. “The faster we can get people into the system and get vaccinated, the faster we’ll be able to go back to a restaurant, go out dancing and do the things we want to do again.”
Provincial data shows a significant proportion of people age 55 and older have not been vaccinated, despite having been eligible for a month or more.
Regular weekly information published
The situation report, published weekly with a summary of COVID-19 testing and surveillance information, is headlined “Provincial COVID-19 incidence steadily declining; hospital and ICU admissions stable” for April 25 to May 1. As cases have declined, so has testing, with only 58,000 tests performed compared to approximately 67,500 done in the first week of April.