North Shore had one of three highest rates of COVID-19 in B.C.

Between January and the end of May, the North Shore had one of the three highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the province, according to statistics revealed Thursday by Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s chief medical health officer.

In the Vancouver Coast Health region, both the City of Vancouver and the North Shore had a rate of infection of between 75 and 100 cases per 100,000 population, according to those statistics. The only area with a higher incidence of COVID-19 in B.C. was the eastern Fraser Valley, with over 100 cases of the virus per 100,000 people.

In actual numbers, there were 259 cases of COVID-19 on the North Shore and surrounding communities to the end of May. That’s fewer than the 540 cases in Vancouver, 367 cases in the eastern Fraser Valley, 523 cases in the southern Fraser Valley and 511 cases in the northern Fraser Valley (which includes Burnaby).

But it’s also more than Richmond, which only had 88 cases of the virus.

This week was the first time Henry provided a more detailed geographic breakdown of the COVID-19 cases in the province.

She also provided good news: in the two weeks between May 18 and May 31, cases have dropped dramatically in B.C. Only one new case of the virus has been recorded on the North Shore in that period.

The only area with a significant number of cases in the most recent two-week period was the southern Fraser Valley with 57 cases – related to recent outbreaks.

On Thursday, Henry also presented research done by B.C.’s Centre for Disease Control to decode the genetic structure of the virus and determine where the strains of the virus showing up in B.C. originated.

That research – which Henry cautioned was done on only about a third of the virus samples – showed most of the COVID-19 in the North Shore and Vancouver Coastal Health area likely came from Washington State, likely brought back by people returning to B.C. from the U.S. in the early part of March.

That strain is also thought to be the one introduced into long-term care homes, including care homes on the North Shore, said Henry.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the introduction of virus strains from Washington State and the far higher numbers of cases that continue to be reported just south of the border are why “measures at the border continue to be key for us.”

The other virus strain – identified as playing the most significant part in the spread of COVID-19 in B.C. – is a European strain that has also been identified in eastern Canada.

Three of those European strains were identified as causing illness among people who attended the Pacific Dental Conference in early March, including one spread by a man who had been in Germany before attending the conference, said Henry. A total of 87 people became ill with COVID-19 in B.C. through attending the conference. One North Vancouver dentist died from COVID-19 after contracting it at the conference.

The first cases of the virus reported in B.C., in the middle of January, were strains from China brought back by people returning from Wuhan where the pandemic started.

In early February, an Iranian strain of the virus identified in a woman returning from Iran helped B.C. health officials alert the World Health Organization of the scale of the outbreak in that country, said Henry.

But while some of the earliest cases were from China and Iran, they did not lead to widespread community transmission, said Henry.

The spread of the virus in B.C. has been much more closely linked to the European/Eastern Canada and Washington State strains.

Demographic data shows the majority of people who get the virus in B.C. are between 30 and 60 – which also reflects typical ages for working people and for health care workers, Henry noted. The elderly remain at far greater risk of dying from the virus, although two people in their 40s have died of COVID-19 in B.C, said Henry. Nobody under 40 has died in the province.

Children remain much less likely than adults to contract the virus.