The Delta variant is now the dominant variant of COVID-19 in B.C., but so far the province has avoided the kinds of outcomes associated with that strain that are plaguing many places in the world.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s most recent report on variants of concern showed that the Delta variant was responsible for 95% of all positive tests for COVID-19 in the last week of July. The percentage is even higher in the Interior (99%) and Vancouver Island (96%).
It appears the highly-infectious nature of the variant, coupled with its impact on non-vaccinated people, are behind the sudden surge of COVID-19 cases around B.C. It also appears to be infecting younger people, many of whom are not fully vaccinated, at an increasing rate.
For example, according to the BCCDC’s data, in the past two weeks more than 900 people in their 20s tested positive for the virus. That compares to less than 450 people in the same age group over the two weeks previous.
More than 300 people aged 10 to 19 tested positive in the past two weeks, compared to less than 120 people in that age group over the previous two weeks. The vaccination rate among these younger people is steadily increasing, but clearly not fast enough.
This province has thankfully not seen a rapid increase in hospitalizations associated with the Delta variant, which is what is happening in many American states. Places like Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Alabama – all with low vaccination rates - are seeing a rapid increase in hospitalizations and ICU cases arising from the Delta variant invading their population.
Even Washington state, which has a higher vaccination rate than many states, still does not have enough vaccinated to ward off Delta. Hospitalizations have increased 20% in the past week.
In B.C. in the past month, fewer than 120 people required hospitalization from getting COVID-19. However, one reason the Central Okanagan has been hit with more Covid-related restrictions is that their escalating cases are impacting the regional health-care system, particularly around Kelowna.
Given its high rate of transmission, it is likely the Delta variant will continue to push this province’s COVID-19 cases skyward. Going into the last weekend, the rolling seven-day daily case average was 279, up more than 200 in two weeks. You can thank Delta for that.
And while the Interior has drawn the most attention for the huge spike in numbers in that area’s health authority, it is interesting to note that on Vancouver Island and in the North there has been a noticeable, if slight, increase in cases in recent days as the Delta variant grew in proportion.
For example, the Island detected more than 125 cases last week instead of the usual 25 or so that was the pattern for much of July. The North saw its case number to balloon to almost 90, instead of the usual 15 to 20. Fraser Health has also seen a doubling of its daily case numbers during the past few weeks.
Again, we are not seeing an alarming increase in hospitalizations, ICUs or even deaths. I hope that the dam will hold, but ensuring that happens will need more people who are eligible to get vaccinated.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.