New COVID-19 cases in B.C. stay low, but health restrictions to remain in place

14 more people die from COVID-19 in B.C. in past three days, including one in 40s, one in 50s

Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry speaks to media | Photo: B.C. government

B.C. health officials are identifying comparatively low numbers of new COVID-19 infections, but the government has no immediate plan to end its ban on eating inside restaurants, or on non-essential travel within B.C.

"We are not yet ready to make any changes to our current provincial health orders this week," provincial health officer Bonnie Henry told media May 17. "This long weekend, it is important for all of us to stay the course."

Advocates for the hospitality industry have urged Henry to clarify when her ban on in-restaurant dining will end, so as not to spring news on the industry with a moment's notice. 

All she would say, however, is that "nothing is changing, until after the 25th." She did not, however, rule out extending the ban past May 25. 

"We're looking at a whole bunch of different factors, and we've been consulting with a whole variety of groups," she said. "These things are being worked out, and yes, it will happen slowly and gradually."

Health officials identified 424 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours – the lowest total since March 8. That low total of new infections comes on the heels of lower totals on May 15, when there were 443 infections, and May 16, when there were 493 infections.

Given that there were 494 new infections identified on May 14, the province has gone four straight days with daily totals of new infections below 500 – the first time that has happened since mid-February. 

Of the 139,664 people known to be infected in B.C. since January, 2020, more than 95.1%, or 132,841 individuals are considered by the province to be recovered. Henry last week clarified that this largely means that the people have passed being infectious, as they may have lingering symptoms, such as a cough. 

The number of people actively infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, has dropped to 5,023 – the lowest number since there were 4,941 such people on March 18.

The number of those hospitalized has fallen by 37 since the last update, on May 14, to 350. Of those, 132 people are in intensive care units (ICU), which is down by nine from May 14. 

Health Minister Adrian Dix calls hospital beds that are fully staffed and which existed before the pandemic "base beds." Hospital beds that are either new or need staff resources to be shifted from other parts of the system are called "surge beds." 

B.C. has 713 vacant base beds across the province, and 101 vacant ICU base beds, Dix said.

"More relevant and important, currently, 128 surge beds are an operation across health authorities and 14 critical-care surge beds are in operation, indicating the continuing stress in our healthcare system in spite of the significant drop off in the number of cases in the last few weeks," he said.

Unfortunately, 14 additional people in B.C. have died from the disease that has prompted a global pandemic, raising the province's death toll from the disease to 1,648 people. One of those deaths was a person aged between 40 and 49 years, and one death was someone aged between 50 and 59 years. Four people who died were in their 60s, four people who died were in their 70s, and four people who died were in their 80s.

All B.C. residents aged older than 18 years are now eligible to book vaccine appointments, and about 55% of eligible B.C. adults have already been vaccinated, Henry said. 

B.C. health officials have administered 2,528,398 vaccine doses to 2,398,325 people, with 130,073 of those individuals getting needed second doses. In the past three days, officials provided 135,133 doses of vaccine to 129,940 people, with 5,193 others getting needed second doses. 

Dix said he expects B.C. next week to receive 276,120 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and 142,500 doses of Moderna's vaccine.

Henry added that she believes that those who have received first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will achieve enhanced immunity up to 12 weeks after receiving that dose. She added that studies are underway in the U.K. to determine whether enhanced immunity could come from having the second, or booster shot, being from AstraZeneca, or from Pfizer or Moderna.

"You will have the option of receiving the second dose of AstraZeneca, and we have stock coming in to be able to support that," she said. "Or, you can take the information, once we have it, and make your own decision about what [drug maker's vaccine] you want for your second [dose.]"

Henry said no new outbreaks have been identified. 

That means, there remain three outbreaks at seniors' homes in B.C., all of which are in the Interior Health region:
• Orchard Haven in Keremeos;
• Sandalwood Retirement Resort in Kelowna; and
• Spring Valley Care Centre in Kelowna.

The two B.C. hospitals with active COVID-19 outbreaks are Dawson Creek and District Hospital and Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom