VANCOUVER -- Twenty-eight more people have died from COVID-19 in British Columbia in the last 24 hours, marking the deadliest day of the pandemic in the province so far.

The province also recorded 723 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, a total that brings B.C. to more than 40,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

There have been 40,060 cases of COVID-19 in B.C. overall, and 587 deaths.

Currently, there are 9,524 active cases of the disease in the province, which is the highest total B.C. has ever recorded.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Thursday's numbers during a live briefing.

As always, the pair offered their condolences to the families, friends and caregivers of the 28 people who died from COVID-19.

"All but two of these people are elders and seniors who were in long-term care homes in various places across B.C.," Henry said. "These are family. These are friends. These are people who had interesting and challenging lives and have spent this last 10 months dealing with the challenges that we are all facing with this pandemic."

Many more people in B.C. are currently dealing with serious illness caused by the coronavirus. The province currently has 346 people in hospital with COVID-19, 83 of them in intensive care units.

Thankfully, Henry said, there have been no additional outbreaks in health-care facilities over the last 24 hours. There are still 57 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living facilities, as well as eight outbreaks in acute care, the provincial health officer said.

With most of the deaths recorded Thursday happening in care homes, there is extra urgency to the immunization plan that is scheduled to begin next week.

The first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in B.C. will be administered to health-care workers working in long-term care and on the front lines in hospitals, as well as to residents of long-term care homes.

The provincial health officer said she knows many people are anxiously awaiting their opportunity to get vaccinated, but stressed that there's still a long way to go before life can return to something resembling normal.

"For every person that gets that vaccine, all of us will be a little bit safer, and we need to remember that, as well," Henry said. "There will be a time when we can take our masks off, when we can hug our loved ones, when we can travel to see friends and family, when we can be together again. We will get there, but we are not through this storm yet."

Referencing the start of Hanukkah at sundown on Thursday, Henry called for British Columbians to take a "winter break" during the holiday season to break the chains of COVID-19 transmission in the province.

"Let's stay apart not because we don't care for each other, but because we do," Henry said. "We want those we are closest to to be here when we can be together again."