VANCOUVER -- British Columbia has recorded another 21 deaths from COVID-19 and 673 new infections, health officials announced Thursday.

The update brings the province's death toll to 713, and the total number of cases identified since the start of the pandemic to 44,776.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said most of the latest fatalities involved seniors in long-term care – highlighting the ongoing challenges in keeping B.C.'s coronavirus cases out of seniors' homes and away from their vulnerable residents.

"My condolences go to the families, to the care providers and to communities. We feel your loss, particularly at this time of year and this time in our pandemic," Henry said.

B.C. has recorded 272 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of December, and there are still 55 active outbreaks at long-term care homes and assisted living facilities.

In a year-end interview with CTV News, B.C. Premier John Horgan addressed the possibility there could be hundreds more deaths in the coming weeks. He acknowledged he's been discussing that scenario with Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

"It's just chilling to contemplate that," Horgan said.

The infections announced Thursday pushed the province's active cases just past the 10,000 mark again, to 10,009. That includes 358 patients in hospital, with a record high of 94 in critical care or intensive care.

Another 10,388 people across B.C. are under active health monitoring after being in contact with a known case of COVID-19. Of all the province's test-positive cases, 73 per cent – or 32,963 people – have recovered.

Officials also announced two new community outbreaks, at the Wingtat Game Bird Packers and the LNG Canada site involving Diversified Transportation employees. Henry and Dix did not reveal how many cases are associated with each outbreak.

The province's immunization program has now provided 1,215 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to health-care workers in the Lower Mainland, and officials remain confident that doses will be delivered to every health authority in B.C. by early next week.

It will take many months before both required doses are delivered to everyone who wants them, however. In the meantime, B.C.'s strict public health orders restricting people's social interactions have only managed to level out the province's surge in cases.

There's been an average of 674 new cases per day over the last week – approximately the same as it was last week.

As B.C.'s caseload remains high, Henry said the province is updating its guidance around testing to ensure that "people who most need to get a test right away realize that and do that."

"We also recognize that, for some people, it might be OK to stay away from others and to wait and see if you need a test," Henry added.

Under the updated recommendations, there are two groups of people who should be tested immediately: those who have been exposed to a known COVID-19 case and have symptoms of any kind, and those who have not been exposed but have one of the symptoms most commonly associated with COVID-19.

Those symptoms are fever or chills, cough, loss of sense of smell or taste, and difficulty breathing.

People who experience a sore through, loss of appetite, fatigue, body aches, nausea and diarrhea – symptoms also associated with seasonal flus and colds – can take a wait-and-see approach if they haven't knowingly been exposed to the coronavirus, Henry said. People with any symptoms are still welcome to get a test if they so choose.

"It's not that you can't get a test, but there are certain people that we want to get a test right away," Henry added.