COVID-19 infections are once again on the rise, with the number of infections in B.C. increasing more than threefold in the past month.
All COVID-19 indicators have increased over the past four reporting weeks, according to the latest figures from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
On Sept. 7, a total of 241 people with COVID-19 were in hospital across the province, with weekly admissions spiking from 95 in the week ending Aug. 12 to 136 two weeks later, before dipping to 119 new cases.
The number of new cases jumped to 447 in the week of Aug. 27, from 133 in the week of Aug. 6. The positivity rate — the percentage of all laboratory coronavirus tests that tested positive — increased from 8.5 per cent to nearly 18 per cent in the same period.
“It’s slowly creeping up,” B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said on Thursday. “We’re starting to see things across the continent and Europe slowly starting to increase in terms of the number of cases.”
The figures remain well below previous peaks, said Henry, and lower than this time last year when B.C. had an early surge of COVID in August combined with an upswing in influenza and respiratory syncytial virus cases in September.
The resurgence of COVID-19 was also reflected in wastewater surveillance by the Centre for Disease Control, which found increased quantities of the virus at all monitored wastewater plants, including ones in the Lower Mainland, Kelowna, Penticton, Victoria and Nanaimo.
The numbers are low, but trending up.
“It gives us a sense that we are probably seeing more of the virus around now,” said Henry. “It’s a combination as we are heading into the fall, and it’s been some time since people had vaccines or infections because we’ve had low levels of infection in the summer, so some of that protection has waned over time.”
Hospitalizations and deaths were also up. The number of people who died within 30 days of a positive COVID lab test rose from eight a week in early August to 12 in late August, peaking at 15 mid-month. About 45 of the COVID-positive deaths in B.C. in the last six months had COVID-19 as the cause of death.
In Ottawa, where cases are also on the rise, hospitals plan to require masks again in parts of the hospital starting Sept. 11.
In B.C., where the province ended mandatory masking in hospitals and health-care settings in April, infection control experts are looking into whether masking should be reinstated in these venues, said Henry, adding the province will release updated guidelines soon.
“When we have more people sick in the community and people with respiratory illnesses need to go to hospital, it’s something that makes sense.”
Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, deputy B.C. Green party leader and former chief of cardiac surgery at B.C. Children’s Hospital, said Ontario hospitals and several other jurisdictions in Canada have reintroduced mask mandates during cold and flu season.
“I think it’s the least that can be done to protect the vulnerable,” said Gandhi, who on Thursday announced he’ll be running for the B.C. Green party in the next election, challenging Health Minister Adrian Dix for the seat in the renamed riding of Vancouver Renfrew.
“If we take the Southern Hemisphere as an example, and we should, this cold and flu season influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID is going to be just as bad, if not worse, than past seasons.
“I’m worried about the upcoming season both in schools and in hospitals.”
B.C. has two dominant strains, EG.5 and XBB.1.16 — both subvariants of Omicron. Health officials are also keeping an eye on new subvariant BA.2.86 which was detected last week in the Fraser Health region.
To date, that’s the only case in B.C. There might be more but not in numbers that pose a concern, said Henry. BA.2.86 has not shown up in genome sequencing tests on wastewater samples.
“There’s probably more cases out there, but not a lot.”
Health Canada is reviewing applications from Pfizer and Moderna for updated mRNA monovalent vaccines developed against XBB.1.5, another widely circulating subvariant. It has also received an application for a non-mRNA vaccine from Novovax.
Studies have indicated the new updated vaccines will likely be effective against EG.5, XBB.1.16 and BA.2.86.
“The updated version of the vaccine covers all of these closely related strains,” said Henry.
B.C. plans to launch a vaccination campaign starting at the end of September if Ottawa approves the tweaked vaccines.
Like last year, people will be able to get their influenza and updated COVID-19 shot at the same time, said Henry. She recommends most British Columbians wait for the updated version of the vaccine rather than get the bivalent vaccines currently available.
— with files from Katie DeRosa
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