COVID-19 update: B.C. announces 536 cases, 7 deaths
VANCOUVER -- British Columbia reported another 536 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as well as seven more deaths from the disease.
The province has now recorded a total of 59,608 infections since the start of the pandemic and 1,038 fatalities.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry indicated all seven of the latest victims were "our seniors and elders," and offered condolences to their families, care providers and communities.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with you," Henry said.
Health officials also announced two new outbreaks in long-term care homes, at the Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre and Maple Ridge Seniors Village.
Two others were declared over, leaving 52 active outbreaks in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities, where residents are much more prone to the most severe effects of COVID-19 than the general population.
Earlier in the day, B.C.'s seniors' advocate announced an investigation into such outbreaks, with a focus on the homes that have experienced the most widespread and devastating impacts.
Henry reiterated that the province's immunization program remains focused on protecting seniors in care. Some 69,749 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been distributed across the province so far, including in remote and isolated communities.
And while concerns about COVID-19 infiltrating care homes remain, the province's case numbers have been trending downward.
B.C.'s rolling seven-day average for new infections fell to 513 on Thursday, down from 575 a week prior.
The active case count, which has been decreasing since reaching a peak of about 10,000 in mid-December, also dropped to 4,624 after 712 people recovered from the disease.
Henry also revealed that B.C. has recorded a fourth case of the U.K. COVID-19 variant, as well as its first case of the South African variant.
The latter was detected in a person who hasn't recently travelled or been in known contact with a traveller, Henry said.
"It is of course concerning that we don't know where this arose," she added. "However, at the moment, it does not appear to have spread in the community beyond the person that we've identified."
Both of the latest cases involve people who live in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.
B.C.'s first case of the U.K. variant was found in a person who had recently returned from a trip to London, and the other two were close contacts of that individual. The fourth is another traveller, Henry said.
Both mutations have raised concerns among health officials, with studies indicating the U.K. variant is more easily transmissible. Pfizer has said its vaccine remains effective against that variant, however.
Henry also addressed reports of increased racism targeting members of the Cowichan Tribes on Vancouver Island, where a community cluster was recently announced.
There have been online calls for members of Cowichan Tribes to be fired from their jobs, and some have reported having medical appointments cancelled after they were asked for their ethnic background and connection to the First Nation.
"This type of racism cannot be tolerated," Henry said. "The health challenges that come with this virus are difficult enough without having to face stigma and discrimination from those around us. We must go beyond good intention and each of us find opportunities to take anti-racist actions."