COVID-19 update: B.C. adds 438 cases, 2 related deaths

Health officials in British Columbia announced another 438 cases of COVID-19 and two related deaths on Tuesday.

The province has now recorded a total of 81,367 infections and 1,365 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

"As always, we do think of the families and the caregivers and the communities who will be mourning these two more people who've died in this pandemic," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

B.C.'s active caseload has increased to 4,679, a jump of 215 cases from Monday. That includes 243 patients in hospital with COVID-19, 63 of whom are in intensive care.

Of all the cases identified so far in the province, about 92 per cent – or 75,255 people – have recovered.

Henry also announced another 22 confirmed cases involving "variants of concern," bringing the provincial total to 182. That includes 159 of the B.1.1.7 variant associated with the U.K. and 23 of the B.1.351 variant associated with South Africa. Only eight of the identified variant cases remain active, including one person currently hospitalized with the disease, Henry said.

The provincial health officer noted that the vast majority of cases are still being detected in the Lower Mainland.

"We pay close attention to these cases to try and determine where and how people were infected," she added. "About 13 per cent are directly related to travel and 60 per cent are close contacts, but there are still 20 to 25 per cent – a quarter of cases – where we are not clear where they acquired the (infection)."

B.C. has administered another 7,501 doses of COVID-19 vaccine since the last update from health officials, for a total of 283,182 doses. That includes 83,777 second doses.

Henry took time to justify the province's decision to extend the interval between doses up to four months, which was announced Monday as B.C. launched Phase 2 of its immunization program.

Henry cited ongoing evidence from around the world that the first dose offers "sustained, high levels of protection against illness, hospitalizations and deaths."

While critics have pointed to the shorter intervals initially recommended by the manufacturers, Henry suggested that the clinical trials were designed "using an interval that maximized our ability to get the information about whether these vaccines worked and were safe as quickly as possible."

She also stressed the unfortunate reality that B.C., and Canada as a whole, have only had access to a limited supply of vaccine so far in the pandemic.

"Our focus is on maximizing the number of people who are benefiting from that very high, real-world protection that we are seeing from a first dose," Henry said.

Health officials also addressed a recent disparity in B.C.'s case numbers, citing problems with the updated data system that was launched earlier this year.

Henry said the issue has now been resolved, but that hundreds more cases had to be added to the provincial total.

"Over the last seven days, there's been an additional 254 cases that needed to be counted in the system, and those will be reconciled," Henry said.

The province has recorded two new outbreaks, at Eagle Ridge Hospital and Chartwell Carrington House Retirement Residence, while the outbreak at Eden Gardens has been declared over.