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Modelling group warns of ‘rapid growth’ in COVID cases, recommends masking for all indoors

Spike in cases has been driven by Interior Heath, which has seen more than half of recent cases
FILE – A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

An independent B.C. modelling group is warning that the province “may be entering a rapid growth phase” and warned that the Delta variant is continuing to rip through the unvaccinated.

The B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, made up of scientists from three major B.C. universities, released an interim report on Friday (Aug. 6) due to a sharp increase in cases in the province.

B.C. reported 464 cases on Friday, the highest numbers since May. In the interim report, the modelling group said that cases are showing “clear growth” after the Step 3 reopening on July 1, which saw the mask mandate lifted and few restrictions on social and organized gatherings.

“The exact nature of the growth is unclear because of inadequate data on variants of concern, in particular Delta,” the group stated.

The B.C. Centre for Control releases weekly variant data, but it is delayed a week. Data released Friday measured variants of concern between July 25 and July 31 and found that Delta made up 95 per cent of cases circulating during that time period. Two weeks ago, Delta accounted for just 39 per cent of cases sequenced.

The modelling group said that B.C.’s increase in COVID cases is “consistent with the pattern seen in Europe and the U.S.” due to relaxation of restrictions and an increase in the Delta variant. The Delta variant has a daily growth rate that is 10 per cent faster than Alpha and according the U.S. Center for Disease Control data, can lead to rare breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals, who can go on to spread the virus.

The recent growth in cases has largely been in the Interior Health region, particularly in the Central Okanagan. Of Friday’s 464 cases, 275 were in Interior Health. The province has implemented a slew of restrictions for the Central Okanagan region, including a mask mandate, limits on indoor and outdoor personal gatherings and restaurants and the suspension of high intensity fitness classes and the shuttering of bars and nightclubs.

READ MORE: Bars, nightclubs ordered to close as Central Okanagan COVID-19 cases surge

Two weeks prior, B.C. reported 112 daily cases, with a similar percentage of cases coming from Interior Health.

While B.C.’s overall vaccination rate is 72 per cent of the total population, some health authorities are lagging behind. The lowest is Northern Health with 57.4 per cent of people vaccinated with at least one dose and next is Interior Health with 65.2 per cent of people partially vaccinated. Fraser Health sits at 69.4 per cent and Vancouver Coastal is at 79.9 per cent.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has attributed the increase in Interior Health infections to unvaccinated people between 20 and 40 years old. Among people ages 18 to 49, the Central Okanagan had a 69 per cent first-dose vaccination rate as of Aug. 3, and a 51 per cent second-dose rate. Meanwhile Surrey, a hotspot earlier on in the pandemic, had a 85 per cent first-dose vaccination rate among people ages 18 to 49 and had 64 per cent of that group fully vaccinated.

While fully vaccinated individuals have a ten times lower risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, the modelling group emphasized there was still a risk.

“To reduce the growth of cases, we encourage continued use of masks in indoor public settings, reduced exposure to poorly ventilated and crowded indoor environments, and vaccination by all those who are able,” the group stated.

READ MORE: 24 people in intensive care, all unvaccinated from COVID-19: B.C. officials

READ MORE: ‘Consequences’ for unvaccinated promised by B.C. officials, who stay vague on vaccine passports


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