COVID-19 'delta variant' found in B.C. care home outbreak, Henry says

One of the three COVID-19 outbreaks underway at care homes in British Columbia involves the concerning delta variant health officials around the world are closely watching.

The province’s top doctor made the revelation at a news conference on Thursday when asked about the delta variant first identified in India and responsible for a growth in cases in the United Kingdom, which began its vaccination campaign well before Canada.

“It has been transmitted in a number of clusters and one outbreak in a care home that we’re watching very carefully,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, though she didn’t offer specifics.

There are only three care home outbreaks underway in the province. Interior Health says the delta variant is not involved with the ongoing outbreak at the Spring Valley Care Centre, which was declared on April 26 and has seen 10 of the 36 residents who got COVID-19 die. A total of 12 staff members at the facility have also been infected.

The other two active care home outbreaks are in Fraser Health, but when CTV News asked whether the Chartwell Carlton Care Residence or the Cherington Place long-term care centre were involved, a spokesperson referred the question to the Ministry of Health, which has not yet responded.

Henry’s comments come as some of the province’s leading infectious disease modellers and data scientists warn that the delta variant is a “wild card” and was the only strain of the coronavirus to keep rising as other cases dropped during the circuit breaker restrictions. 

There are three sub-types of the B.1.617 variant, with the .2 strain titled “delta” being the most dangerous, estimated to be twice as contagious as the B.1.1.7 (UK) and P.1 (Brazilian) variants. As of May 15, the BCCDC reported 541 cases of the Indian variant, but didn’t break down how many are the delta variety; here were 8,015 UK variant samples and 5,761 Brazilian samples.

On Thursday, Henry told reporters there are about 300 confirmed cases of the delta variant in the province or "perhaps a little bit more" than that.

“The main circulating variants are B.1.1.7 and P.1, respectively accounting for ~ 56 % and ~ 40% of positive specimens screened or sequenced,” reads the BCCDC’s report for the period of May 9 to 15. 

"We're not seeing (the delta variant) replace the more common ones that we are seeing, which are alpha - the B1.1.7 - and the P.1," Henry said Thursday. "Those are still the more common that we are seeing."

She said the number of cases of each of the three variants is decreasing as B.C.'s overall caseload drops, but added the province is monitoring the situation closely.

“We’ve also learned that no matter what strain of the virus we’re seeing, the measures we take to reduce transmission are the same and they work,” she said.

Transmissibility of the virus is one of the major factors that affects the concept of herd immunity and the proportion of vaccinated individuals necessary to achieve it, Henry said. Another major factor is the possibility that new strains of the virus will develop that are less affected by the antibodies present in vaccinated individuals, she said.

She encouraged everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Having two doses of the vaccine continues to be very effective against all of the strains we’re seeing in the province,” Henry said.