Vax up and mask up: How experts say B.C. can counter rising COVID-19 case numbers

UBC Professor & Mathematical Biologist Sarah Otto discusses what's behind rising COVID-19 case numbers in B.C.

Experts in B.C. are urging the public to keep taking precautions and to get vaccinated as soon as they’re able, as COVID-19 case numbers trend upward and the highly-contagious Delta variant spreads.

On Friday B.C. reported 112 new cases, a five-week high — and the BC CDC reported Delta had grown to about four in 10 cases.

Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre, said the growth was not unexpected but that the figure likely underrepresents the situation.

Read more:
B.C. reports over 100 new COVID-19 cases for first time in five weeks

“We need to assume that all of the cases are caused by the Delta variant, there’s a bit of a lag in terms of reporting of the proportion of cases that are Delta,” he said.

Current case numbers remain within the range that can be tracked and traced he said, but keeping them there is crucial.

Research has found COVID-19 vaccines to be highly effective at countering the variant, but only among people who are fully vaccinated.

As of Friday, about 58 per cent of eligible British Columbians was fully vaccinated, while about 80 per cent have had their first dose.

“This is my main concern right now,” Conway said.

“I would like to encourage all British Columbians and all Canadians that the moment you are eligible to receive your second shot and that is made available to you, run, don’t walk to the vaccination centre and be part of the solution.”

More than half of new cases reported Friday were in B.C.’s interior, where vaccination rates have lagged most of the province, with the exception of the north.

In Enderby, for example, just 59 per cent of eligible people had received a first dose, while in Creston the rate was just 62 per cent.

UBC mathematical biologist and member of the B.C. COVID-19 modelling group Sarah Otto said those low vaccination rates open the door to spread of the Delta variant, which she said “just transmits that much faster.”

“It’s mainly able to spread because there are those pockets of communities that have low vaccination rates. And we’re seeing that here in the province,” she told Global News.

Read more:
Delta variant of COVID-19 now makes up nearly 4 in 10 cases in B.C., data shows

“Everywhere in this province, if you are unvaccinated and hoping, ‘Well, we’re close enough to having full protection, I’m protected because everybody around me is vaccinated,’ I don’t think it works that way with Delta.”

While the vaccines have proven highly effective at preventing symptomatic illness and keeping people out of hospital, Otto said there is evidence that vaccinated people can still transmit the virus to others.

She said rapid growth of the variant in Ontario and Alberta likely heralds what’s to come in B.C.

“We’re going to continue to see a spike in cases here in B.C.,” she said.

“Over the last 2 weeks, the growth of delta has amounted to doubling every 10 days.”

Both Otto and Conway advised people to keep wearing masks in indoor public places, especially if they are unvaccinated.

B.C. made mask wearing recommended but voluntary when it moved to Step 3 of its reopening plan on July 1.

Read more:
Delta variant of COVID-19 now makes up nearly 4 in 10 cases in B.C., data shows

While first dose numbers have slumped in recent weeks — about 5,200 British Columbians got their first jab every day last week — Conway said he was confident the province can get number high enough to make a difference.

He estimated about one third of those yet to get immunized were genuinely vaccine hesitant, while another third could be convinced if their questions were answered and the final third can be reached through outreach like Saturday’s pop-up clinic at Playland.

“I think the targeted programs could get us well over 90 per cent of individuals doubly vaccinated by the fall,” he said.

“That needs to be our goal as we move forward, especially with the development of new variants internationally, as vaccine programmes lag on a worldwide basis.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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