Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver here this morning and James Keller is in Calgary.
Canadians’ willingness to line up for a COVID-19 jab has garnered us international acclaim for our progress and allowed a collective exhale after months of terrifying news and grim statistics.
So it was with creeping dread that I had a look at B.C.’s case-count numbers since most restrictions were lifted at the start of this month. Of course, they are nothing compared with the four-digit figures we were racking up at the height of the third wave of infections in March.
But still, whatever is going on in the Interior of the province is a reminder that the virus is still circulating. As successful as British Columbia’s vaccination campaign has been so far – 80.7 per cent of eligible people in the province have had at least one shot – the virus still finds a receptive home among the remainder who are not vaccinated.
As of July 4, the rolling seven-day average for British Columbia stood at 36 cases. On July 12, it was 46. On July 19, it was 52.4 and on Monday, it was 98.6. Much of the growth has been attributed to cases within the Interior Health Authority, which encompasses Kelowna and Kamloops, as well as other smaller cities.
On Tuesday, of B.C.’s 150 new cases over the past 24 hours, 95 of them were in that region. That compares with 32 in Fraser Health and 17 in the Vancouver area, both health areas with significantly larger populations than the Interior.
The mayor of Grand Forks said 20 recent cases were connected to a wedding. Interior Health said about 70 per cent of the cases were among people who were not vaccinated and another 26 per cent were among those with only one shot.
Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry acknowledged Tuesday that there are unique challenges in getting people vaccinated in the Interior and the north. She and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced a two-week, provincewide blitz specifically targeting those who remain unvaccinated, especially people in those communities. They released data Tuesday that showed that just under 15 per cent of residents in Vancouver Coastal health remain unvaccinated, but in the north, that number is 32.5 per cent and in the Interior, it is 26.
Dr. Henry said polling has shown that about five per cent of British Columbians who are eligible to get a dose will refuse to get one, no matter how hard health authorities try.
But that still leaves hundreds of thousands of people who might be willing, given the right outreach.
“There are some pockets of people who are hesitant about the vaccine, don’t yet have the confidence in the vaccine, and we’ve seen that in health care workers and in some communities across both the Interior and the north.
“And part of it is having the resources and the access to the vaccine. So that is what we are going to be focusing on,” Dr. Henry said, noting that the goal is for health workers to get to every community to answer questions and make it easy and convenient for people to be vaccinated.
In Alberta, which became the first province in the country to drop all of its COVID-19 restrictions on July 1, infections have been increasing sharply for the past week. There were 144 new infections reported on Monday and the seven-day average has doubled in just five days.
The new infections have been driven in large part by people in their 20s, particularly in Calgary. That age group has among the lowest vaccination rates in the province.
But the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and the Premier have been warning the public for weeks to stop putting so much emphasis on case counts. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said last month that daily infections were an important metric earlier in the pandemic because they foreshadowed severe outcomes, but the prevalence of vaccines means that those are far less common.
Jason Kenney has said that vaccines have “decoupled” case counts from hospital admissions and deaths. He has pointed to places like Britain, where infections surged in recent weeks but where hospital admissions have remained low compared with previous waves.
Some experts have also argued that infection numbers have become far less important, as Kelly Grant reported on the weekend. That’s because the vaccines will make those numbers less consequential while also making it more difficult to predict how many people will end up in hospital when cases spike.
David Naylor, co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, said it will be difficult to strike the right balance:
“A case now has a context that is different depending on the immune status of the patient. That’s the nub of the problem. If we simply count cases and respond to that, we’re going to be spooked and overreact consistently. If we ignore cases, then the risk is that we’ll end up with a bad clone of the British experiment, which most of us regard as reckless.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.