Weekly average nearing 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases as B.C.'s top doctor announces 'another big day'

Another 1,068 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in British Columbia over the last day, health officials said.

That's nearly as many as the province's record of 1,072 cases identified in a single day, which was set over the Easter weekend.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, the province's top doctor started her update by saying, "We've had another big day today."

Speaking from Vancouver alongside Health Minister Adrian Dix, Dr. Bonnie Henry said the update brings the total number of cases confirmed since the start of the pandemic to 105,988.

It also pushes B.C.'s weekly average up toward the 1,000 mark. With the latest data, that average is now sitting at 993.

Additionally, three more deaths have been attributed to the disease, Henry said. The death toll in B.C. has now reached 1,489.

She expressed her condolences to the family, friends and caregivers of those who've lost their lives during the pandemic.

As of Tuesday's update, 328 patients were being treated in B.C. hospitals for the novel coronavirus – the most people hospitalized since Jan. 25.

Of those, 96 are in intensive care units. Hospitalizations are often seen as a marker of the severity of the pandemic.

Officials also announced another 207 cases involving variants of concern, all but one of which were in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. This update brings the total of known variant cases to 3,766.

When looking just at active cases, about three per cent involve variants of concern. Sixty-three are in hospital, the majority of whom have the B.1.1.7. variant often associated with the U.K.

These variants have, in some instances, been tied to a greater severity of symptoms, particularly with younger people.

They also transmit more easily, Henry said. And the health officials have noted through contact tracing that residents of B.C., especially younger people, are now socializing with larger groups.

Gatherings are a major source of transmission in the province, she said. Younger people may be socializing in smaller groups, but are seeing multiple groups.

This age group also is more likely to live with roommates and work in a public-facing job, leading to something of a ripple effect.

Her concerns are shared by those working in B.C.'s hospitals.

Speaking to CTV News Monday, an emergency room doctor said he's been alarmed by recent hospitalizations, and noted an influx in young people ending up in B.C. ERs.

While older people are still most at risk, according to Dr. Michael Curry, he suggested more restrictions are needed to keep those under the age of 40 out of hospital until vaccines are available to that age group.

Henry said 912,056 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the province at this point. Of those, 87,474 are second doses. Approximately 16 per cent of British Columbians have been vaccinated, Tuesday's update suggests.

The province launched its online vaccination booking system Tuesday, which also allows residents of B.C. who are not yet able to get their shot to pre-register for the vaccines. 

The government will then contact those who've registered when they are eligible.

In the age-based system, people born in 1950 and earlier are now able to book their appointments, as well as Indigenous adults of all ages and people considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable.

Additionally, some people working in certain professions considered to be of higher risk were eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, that program was halted last week due to concerns about the vaccine from Health Canada. It remained "on pause," as Henry put it, on Tuesday.

Information about the vaccine is still being analyzed, she said. She's hopeful to have more information "very soon."

In the meantime, the AstraZeneca vaccine will be given to older people in the province, as it's considered safe for some age groups.

"As soon as we have the ability we will jumpstart our worker program once again," Henry said, asking those impacted by the pause to "be patient."

When it comes to active outbreaks, health officials are currently dealing with nine in acute care and three in long-term care, assisted living and independent living, Henry said.