COVID-19 update: 1 death, 59 more cases recorded in B.C.

COVID-19 vaccine being distributed to health-care workers in B.C. on Dec. 22, 2020. (Province of BC/Flickr)

Another person has died from COVID-19 in B.C., health officials announced Thursday as the province's weekly average for new cases increased for the third day in a row.

The Ministry of Health said 59 coronavirus infections have been identified since Wednesday's update, bringing the rolling average to 41 per day. That's up from an average of 35 cases per day as of Monday.

While the increase remains small, it represents the first consistent rebound since B.C.'s average began plummeting back in April as the province was ramping up its immunizations.

Asked about the increase Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the government still feels confident that vaccinations are keeping widespread transmission at bay.

"What we're not seeing is virus spreading rapidly in the community," Henry said. "We're continuing with our strong public health follow-up of cases to make sure that we're isolating people, that we're not allowing outbreaks and clusters to spread rapidly."

Most of the ongoing transmission is being detected in "pockets where we have people who are unimmunized and having contact," Henry added.

B.C.'s active caseload has also been gradually increasing, going from 602 on Tuesday to 649 on Thursday. That includes 74 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 19 of whom are in intensive care.

Most of the latest cases were recorded in the Fraser Health region, where 21 people tested positive. Ten more people tested positive in Vancouver Coastal Health, along with 19 in Interior Health. Two of the latest cases were in Northern Health and seven were in Island Health.

As of Thursday, 78.4 per cent of people aged 12 and older in the province have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Forty per cent have received a second dose.

In total, 5,497,150 vaccine doses have so far been distributed in B.C.

Henry said there has been a slowdown in the pace of young people getting vaccinated, and encouraged everyone in the province to get both doses as soon as possible.

"The message continues to be: We all need to be immunized as soon as possible," she said. "It's working."

The government also announced Thursday that it is relaxing visitation rules at long-term care homes and assisted living facilities beginning on July 19. Soon, families will no longer have to schedule visits in advance when they want to see a loved one.

Henry noted that officials would not have moved to ease care home restrictions if they didn't feel confident in the province's ability to keep COVID-19 transmission low.

She did caution that there could be a resurgence in the coming months, but said modelling from Canada and B.C. indicates it's unlikely to occur in the fall.

"It may be pushed out into early in the New Year," she added. "There are many, many things that we do not yet know."

One of the factors will be how long the protection from COVID-19 vaccinces lasts, Henry said, particularly in seniors who received their second dose at a shorter interval than most of the population.

"We'll be watching that very carefully, and we'll be planning for if we need to have a booster dose at some time for certain populations," Henry said.