The number of COVID-19-related deaths in Interior Health for the year more than doubled on the weekend (Dec. 18 to Dec. 21), with nine people succumbing to the disease in long-term care facilities and hospitals.
The nine deaths bring to 17 the number of people in Interior Health who have died from COVID-19 in 2020.
“Today is our most tragic report since the beginning of this devastating pandemic. Some passed peacefully in long-term care, while others were in hospital, and in each case I share sincere condolences to their loved ones and caregivers,” Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown said.
“It’s never easy to lose a member of our community, especially now after we have come so far in the fight against COVID-19. I urge everyone to redouble your efforts and focus on the important public health guidance that can prevent the spread of COVID-19 so that we may protect ourselves and loved ones this holiday season.”
There were 41 deaths provincewide over the weekend, including the Interior Health numbers, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related deaths in B.C. to 765.
Provincewide, there were 1,667 new cases on the weekend, 189 of which are in Interior Health, which has had 3,313 cases this year. There are 721 active cases in Interior Health, with those people in isolation. There are 33 people in Interior Health hospitals, seven of whom are in intensive care.
There remain five outbreaks in Interior Health:
• Teck mining operations in the Kootenays (15 cases);
• McKinney Place long-term care in Oliver (73 cases, 53 residents and 20 staff. There have been seven deaths related to this outbreak, including four new deaths on the weekend).
• Village by the Station long-term care in Penticton (four cases, two residents and two staff).
• Mountainview Village long-term care in Kelowna (14 cases, seven residents and seven staff. There remains one death related to this outbreak).
• Big White resort in Kelowna (76 cases).
There are 9,718 active cases in B.C., with 341 people in hospital, of whom 80 are in intensive care.
There were five new outbreaks declared in long-term care homes on the weekend, while five other outbreaks were declared over, leaving the province with 61 outbreaks — 55 in long-term care homes and six in hospital acute-care wards. There are 1,424 residents and 792 staff members affected.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there were 3,644 people vaccinated, all in Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions, almost all involving health-care workers.
On the vaccination front, Henry said immunization will begin on Tuesday, Dec. 22, in Interior Health and other health regions outside of the Lower Mainland.
She said those most at risk — health-care workers and residents of long-term care homes — will be first to be vaccinated.
There will be one site in Interior Health to begin with and those being vaccinated must be brought to the site, based on Pfizer’s instructions. The Pfizer vaccine must be kept at a temperature of -70 C, which limits where the medicine can be stored.
Henry said there are discussions with Pfizer many times per day on when the vaccine can be transported to where residents live. In addition, she said she is waiting on licensing of the Moderna vaccine (which need not be stored at such cold temperatures) and confirmation on the number of doses B.C. will receive.
As for the reported mutation of the novel coronavirus in the United Kingdom, which has led to many countries, including Canada, banning flights from the U.K., Henry noted mutations are more common in RNA viruses. She pointed to rapidly changing influenza viruses that require new vaccines annually.
“It is not unexpected to be see mutations and we have been following this very closely from the beginning,” she said. “Mutations allow us to see where things have come from. What is surprising is that the number of mutations on this variant arose at same time.”
Reports are that the new strain is more contagious, but not necessarily more deadly, with vaccines still being effective in combatting it.
However, Henry pointed out the genomic sequence of the virus has only been known for 11 months, noting there is much more to learn.
While the arrival of the new strain in B.C. could very well impact safety measures implemented, Henry said the bottom line is that the behaviour of people, and the need to adhere to public health orders and guidelines, is what will curtail transmission.