B.C. reports 997 cases of COVID-19, sets new record for patients in ICU

British Columbia reported another 997 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday as the number of patients battling the disease in intensive care units reached a new record high.

In a joint written statement, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced there are now 330 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, including 105 in intensive care.

Health officials have recently been sounding the alarm about the spread of coronavirus variants of concern, some of which are easier to catch and linked to more severe illness, even in younger age groups.

"Numbers of younger people in hospital have increased and numbers of younger people needing ICU care have increased, and that is concerning," Henry said during her pandemic briefing on Tuesday.

Health officials were unable to provide an update on B.C.'s variant numbers on Wednesday, but said 266 of the 3,766 confirmed variant cases remain active.

The B.1.1.7 variant associated with the U.K. makes up three-quarters of confirmed variant cases, while the P.1 variant associated with Brazil makes up about 23 per cent. The rest involve the B.1.351 variant associated with South Africa.

As those variants continue to circulate, contributing to B.C.'s record-breaking third wave of the pandemic, health officials stressed the need to diligently follow public health orders and COVID-19 guidelines.

"We know that no matter what mutation may be prevalent, following all of the public health orders and using all of our layers of protection – without exception – is the best thing we can do to keep ourselves and each other safe," Henry and Dix said in their statement.

"We all have a choice – to bend the rules, or do our part to flatten our curve. No matter how tired of this pandemic we may be, let’s make the right choice today."

Contact-tracing has shown that rule-flouting indoor gatherings are a major contributing factor in the province's recent surge in cases, according to officials.

B.C. has now identified a total of 106,985 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The latest infections pushed the province's active caseload to 8,728, the highest it's been since Christmas Eve.

Another two people have also died from the disease, bringing B.C.'s death toll to 1,491.

Meanwhile, the government's immunization program has been continuing at its accelerated pace. Another 34,040 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines have been administered since Tuesday's update, bringing the provincial total to 946,096.

That includes 858,592 first doses – enough to protect about 17 per cent of the B.C. population – and 87,504 second doses.

This week, the province launched its Get Vaccinated online registration and booking system. So far, 305,000 people have registered and 38,000 have booked appointments.

Anyone 70 and up, Indigenous residents 18 and up, and everyone who has received a letter deeming them "clinically extremely vulnerable" are currently eligible to receive a shot through B.C.'s age-based schedule. The government has also been vaccinating people in COVID-19 outbreak locations and hotspots, including Surrey schoolteachers.

The program that was intended to distribute AstraZeneca to frontline workers such as grocery store employees and first responders remains on hold, however. The province is still waiting for updated guidance on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been linked to very rare instances of blood clotting in other parts of the world.

Of all the identified COVID-19 cases in B.C., about 90 per cent – or 96,626 people – have recovered.