VANCOUVER -- Health officials in British Columbia announced another 18 deaths related to COVID-19 on Friday, as well as 617 new infections.

The update puts the provincial death toll at 988 and the total number of cases identified since the start of the pandemic at 56,632.

In a statement, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix offered their condolences to "everyone who has lost their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The latest infections were outnumbered by 831 recoveries recorded over the same period, which helped push B.C.'s active case count down to 6,118. Active cases have been decreasing for weeks after reaching a peak of about 10,000 in mid-December.

The rolling seven-day average for new cases has been creeping upwards, however, reaching 582 cases per day over the last week. That's up from an average of 448 per day recorded in the week ending on New Year's Eve.

Concerns about the case numbers, and the impact that British Columbians' behaviour over the holidays could have this month, contributed to officials' decision this week to extend the current health order barring in-person social interactions into February.

The order was originally scheduled to expire Friday at midnight.

Hospitalization decreased slightly on Thursday, to 358, which includes 75 patients in intensive care.

Another 8,755 people are under active health monitoring after being exposed to a known case of COVID-19.

While new outbreaks in health-care settings have been a near-daily occurrence for weeks, officials had none to declare on Friday. Five such outbreaks, including the widespread and tragic outbreak at Tabor Home that left 26 residents dead, have ended.

"Long-term care outbreaks have been at the forefront of our minds and our hearts since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic," Henry and Dix said. "Each day, more of our seniors and Elders who live in these homes, as well as the people who care for them, are protected with the vaccine."

Some 46,259 people have a dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine so far across the province, with most going to residents and staff at long-term care homes.

More details on the province's immunization plans are expected to be shared later in January.

In the meantime, health officials urged the public to continue spending time only with members of their immediate household, wearing masks in indoor public spaces, and avoiding non-essential travel.

"Most British Columbians have been doing their part, and we know it is frustrating when a few people put so many others at risk. Despite this, it is important to know your sustained efforts are saving lives. It will get us that much closer to the days without COVID-19," Henry and Dix said.

"Show your friends and neighbours they can count on you to make the right choices, every day, and together we will see brighter days once again."