12 more people die of COVID-19 in B.C. as 694 new cases confirmed

Another 12 lives have been lost to COVID-19 in B.C. as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 694 new cases of the disease Thursday.

The number of active cases across the province has risen to 9,103, but the number of patients in hospital has dipped slightly to 325, with 80 in critical condition.

Henry spoke once again Thursday about the promise of an approved vaccine arriving in B.C. within weeks. Two vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Moderna, are expected to be available to some people early in the new year.

“We are planning to put vaccine into arms in the first week of January,” Henry said.

She said she’ll provide a detailed plan next week for the rollout, but priority will go to the most vulnerable British Columbians, including residents of long-term care homes.

By April, the number of available doses is expected to be high enough that vaccines will begin to be available more widely. Henry said the goal is to have everyone who wants the vaccine immunized by September.

Right now, 10,849 people are in isolation and being monitored by public health workers because of exposure to known cases of COVID-19. 

To date, 35,422 cases of the disease have been confirmed and 481 people have died.

Thursday’s update includes three new outbreaks in the health-care system. There are now 56 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living and eight in hospitals.

Henry used Thursday’s briefing to urge everyone to stay strong and follow public health orders that have banned social gatherings and community events. 

“The reason why we need to reduce social interactions, the reason why we cancelled events, the reason why we put in restrictions on adult team sports — what we have seen is when people come together, this virus can spread,” she said.

“I recognize that this sacrifice is one that all of us are taking.”

She said staff in hospitals and long-term care homes are strained and exhausted, and it’s up to everyone else to do their part to help them.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Adrian Dix provided an update on hospital capacity across the province, saying that acute care beds are currently 87.8 per cent occupied, compared to more than 100 per cent occupied last year year at this time.

He said that when appropriate, patients are being moved around to make space — for example, from northern B.C. to Vancouver Island or Vancouver. The goal is to make sure there’s enough room in intensive care units in case of further surges.

“That is a health-care system working as it should during a pandemic,” Dix said. “That said, it is very challenging times.”

Virus spreading through sports and recreation

Henry said Thursday that adult sports and fitness activities have become a major source of infection in recent weeks, accounting for something between 10 and 15 per cent of new cases.

Earlier in the day, the province clarified rules around adult sports. All indoor and outdoor adult team sports are now prohibited in B.C. and children’s programs have returned to earlier, more restrictive guidelines in response to the unchecked spread of the disease.

The news comes after Henry revealed that an old timers’ hockey team from the Interior recently travelled to Alberta for games, in defiance of a public health order.

Some team members came back with COVID-19 and exposed their family members and co-workers, leading to “several dozen” new cases in the community, Henry said.

When asked Thursday why children’s sports are still allowed to proceed on a modified basis while adults’ team sports have been stopped, Henry said the evidence has shown that socializing tends to be built into adult sports, and that’s when the virus spreads.

She also said she understands that some children and youth will be disappointed if their games are cancelled because of the tighter restrictions.

“Young people have really taken the brunt of some of these changes. I know you are adaptable, and you are superheros in my  mind. I know you can make this work,” Henry said.

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