VANCOUVER -- Another 49 people died from COVID-19 in British Columbia over the weekend, setting a grim new record for the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the dozens of fatalities during a sombre start to her coronavirus briefing Monday, describing the losses as "a tragedy that all of us feel."

"My condolences go out to the families, the care providers and the communities. We know that this is a most challenging and difficult time and we mourn with you," Henry said.

Previously, the most deaths recorded over a single weekend was 46, as announced just two weeks ago on Dec. 1. The province's death toll now sits at 647.

But there was optimistic news as well, as Henry confirmed B.C. is preparing to distribute its first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

"This is momentous news – the first step in our path protecting people most at risk in our communities and taking the pressure off our health-care system," she said.

Health officials also revealed they expect to distribute the next shipment of the vaccine in every health authority region in B.C. as early as next week. The first approximately 4,000 shots that arrived Sunday night are only being given out in the Lower Mainland, in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions.

Officials previously cited logistical complications around Pfizer's vaccine, which must be stored at extreme sub-zero temperatures, as the reason it would take longer to make it to other parts of the province.

Henry also stressed the need for people to continue diligently following COVID-19 precautions during the slow and gradual vaccine rollout, calling it her "biggest fear" that the public will relax their efforts now that there's hope on the horizon.

"We are going to be saving lives with every single dose that we give, but it's not enough yet to stop transmission in our community," she said. "People are going to be exposed and some of them will get very ill, will end up in our hospitals or end up dying at this point where we are so, so close."

Despite several weeks under strict public health orders intended to limit people's social interactions, B.C. continues to see several hundred new cases of COVID-19 per day. As of Monday, the province's seven-day average for new infections is 684.

Another 2,146 cases were identified over the weekend, including 698 from Friday to Saturday, 689 from Saturday to Sunday and 759 from Sunday to Monday.

There have now been 42,943 infections identified in B.C. since the start of the pandemic, and 31,207 people have recovered.

The latest infections pushed the province's active cases to 10,039, setting a new record and marking the first time the number has exceeded 10,000. That number includes 359 patients in hospital, of whom 87 are in intensive care or critical care.

Another 11,177 people are under active public health monitoring after being exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19.

A major concern about B.C.'s surging cases has been spillover into long-term care homes that house elderly and vulnerable residents more prone to the worst symptoms of the disease. On Monday, Henry announced another three outbreaks, at Jubilee Lodge in Prince George, the Fraserview Intermediate Care Lodge in Richmond, and Villa Carital in Vancouver.

Six others have been declared over, leaving 62 active outbreaks in the province's health-care system, most at long-term care homes and assisted living facilities.