Vancouver and Northern B.C. stand out in weekly COVID-19 update
VANCOUVER -- During a reporting period that saw overall infections continue to drop in British Columbia, two areas in the City of Vancouver and the Peace River area stand out for their COVID-19 infection rates and vaccinations.
The weekly data summary from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, current as of May 18, shows the Northeast False Creek area of Vancouver being the only neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver where cases increased, while the UBC area has the lowest vaccination rates for the region with only 37 per cent of adults inoculated against COVID.
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Richmond City Centre had the next-lowest vaccination rates in the Lower Mainland at just 49 per cent of adults.
CTV News Vancouver asked to speak with someone from Vancouver Coastal Health about the highs and lows, but no one was made available, nor did communications staff provide a statement.
While Northeast False Creek saw cases rise to 14.8 daily per 100,000 residents, Surrey rates remained the highest in the Lower Mainland with 27.9 cases per 100,000 in Whalley, and North Surrey (26.5) and West Newton (22.4) close behind, though daily case rates are steadily declining throughout the city. There are 24 cases each day per 100,000 in West Abbotsford.
Meanwhile, infections remain high in the Fort Nelson and Peace River North areas in the northeastern part of the province, where more than one in four people (about 27 per cent) swabbed for COVID are testing positive.
Peace River North has the most per capita infections in Northern Health (up to 40 per 100,000 residents per day) as well as the lowest vaccination rates in that health authority. Only 39 per cent of adults there are vaccinated, and the region has the lowest rate of vaccination among those 55 and older as well (59 per cent).
Northern Health’s top doctor explained that while the infections are high, they have not increased and have remained stable relative to the rapidly dropping rates in the rest of the area.
“The North Peace never reached as high as the South Peace area, but hasn’t seen the same level of decline in the rest of the north and some of the other parts of the province,” said Northern Health chief medical health officer Dr. Jong Kim, who added he’s not prepared to link vaccination rates with infections.
“We are watching the communities with low immunization rates and whether we see the clusters increase transmission,” Kim said.
Kim also pointed out that communities like Fort St. John only recently opened vaccinations to all adults, whereas other northern communities vaccinated everyone early on, and they’ve also been grappling with staffing challenges.
“We were only recently able to increase our immunization capacity, which has increased significantly in the last few weeks, so we hope to see the rate improving more rapidly this week as well as in coming weeks,” he said. “And it’s true, in some communities there may be more vaccine hesitancy than others, but we need to address it in every community.”
While Alberta’s infection level was so high it prompted warnings from BCCDC analysts that “potential for importation into B.C. is high,” Kim believes that cross-border workers have not affected the region’s infection levels.
In contrast, the west side of Vancouver Island and several areas of Interior and Northern Health reported no daily infections, with the Central Coast area posting the highest vaccination rates with 92 per cent of adults getting their shot.
VARIANTS CONSISTENT AS TESTING KEEPS DROPPING
When It comes to variants, the report’s authors note they are remaining consistent with previous weeks.
“The share of VOCs among screened cases in BC is ~85% in epi week 19 (May 9-15),” with the B.1.617 first discovered in India representing 2 per cent of variants of concern in B.C. “Among sequenced samples provincially based on information for epi week 18, P.1 (~41%) and B.1.1.7 (~57%) remain two dominant VOCs.”
Hospitalizations are creeping down but significantly slower than daily infection rates. Most British Columbians in hospital with COVID are over the age of 40.
While overall testing is still down, the share of people who are testing positive is also decreasing, with only 51,000 people tested last week. 8.5 per cent of samples are coming back positive for COVID-19, whereas last week it was nine per cent when averaged across the province.
WEEKLY SITUATION REPORT
A separate report provided throughout the pandemic has been the BCCDC’s COVID-19 Situation Report, which is published two weeks after the data gathering period.
It notes that in the week of May 2 to 8, the highest testing rates were in 5-9 year-olds and 20-39 year-olds. The percentage of tests that came back positive declined in the school-aged youngsters but went up slightly in the young adult demographic, with 11.2 per cent testing positive. Slightly more 15-19 year-olds also tested positive compared to the week before, with the highest positivity rate among all age groups at approximately 12 per cent.
Overall, the death rate remains low and the report’s authors note, “following increasing vaccination rates in the elderly, the weekly number of deaths in 80+ year-olds decreased by 88% between weeks 50 and 13 (from 85 to 10 deaths), with a slight increase in weeks 14-16 (~17 deaths per week); and a renewed decline in week 18 (11 deaths).”
Week 50 was during the second wave in December.
The report also shows six new children under the age of 10 hospitalized with COVID, as well as four between 10 and 19 years old; one of them was admitted to the ICU.
NORTHERN SUCCESS STORY
Two months after adults were vaccinated, with 78 per cent now having received their first shot, Prince Rupert has become a shining example of the importance and impact of high vaccination rates.
Last week, there wasn’t a single new infection in the community, and the week before there were only two confirmed cases.
“Our end goal is the same, we want to reach 80 per cent vaccination coverage in every community,” said Kim. “That’s going to get our COVID numbers low and keep them low, and that means in every community we have to address vaccine hesitancy. In some communities there may be more than in others, but we have to address it everywhere.”