COVID-19: B.C. prepares for shift to epidemic as case counts drop and vaccination rate grows

Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Réka Gustafson says COVID-19 will be managed as a communicable disease “effectively and expertly” by the public health care system.

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B.C.’s COVID-19 pandemic is inching toward its conclusion.

On Monday, the deputy provincial health officer, Dr. Réka Gustafson, reported falling daily case numbers, falling active cases and hospitalizations and almost three quarters of the adult population now partly or fully vaccinated.

She said public health monitoring and management would shortly begin to change from all-out pandemic mode to a more-routine approach.

“From a public health perspective, as long as we continue on this trajectory, we will be aiming to shift our approach from pandemic emergency response to sustainable public health management,” Gustafson said.

She said that in an immunized population, COVID-19 would become a manageable communicable disease much like other diseases for which people are routinely vaccinated.

“In B.C., strong local public health teams of public health nurses, environmental health officers, under the leadership of medical health officers, monitor, prevent and control communicable diseases every day,” Gustafson said. “Normally they do it so well that we rarely hear about them in the news.”

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Gustafson said that based on the improving numbers and high vaccination rate, more COVID-19 restrictions would likely be lifted next Tuesday as hoped. June 15 was the earliest date set for Step 2 of the B.C. restart plan, which would allow gatherings of up to 50, intra-provincial travel, alcohol sales until midnight and indoor games.

On July 1 at the earliest, nightclubs can reopen, all fitness classes can be full capacity and interprovincial travel is supported. On Sep. 1, the final round of restrictions are set to be lifted.

This would likely trigger the pandemic being declared over in B.C.

“Cases are declining, hospitalizations are declining, critical care admissions are declining and mortality has remained low and stable throughout this third wave of the pandemic. All of the indicators are in the direction that we want them to be,” Gustafson said.

“But of course that’s a decision that’s made by government. It’s made by government on the advice of the provincial health officer. But, at the moment, the indicators that we have put in place to monitor and to make the decision (on lifting restrictions) are all going in the right direction.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said there were about 145,000 doses of vaccine administered over the past three days. There are more than 315,000 people fully vaccinated in B.C. with two doses and around 3.3. million who have received one dose.

“I think we’re doing well. We’ve got to continue to make it easier for people to get vaccinated and continue to push toward the ultimate goal, which is as close to 100 per cent as we can get,” he said.

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“If people are dead set against being vaccinated, of course that will have an impact. But a lot of people, we’ve got to make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated.”

Vaccine clinics in B.C. will remain open over the summer, with millions of doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines expected over the next four months.

Dix said one advantage of being COVID-19 vaccinated was that it would make travel easier.

There were 133 cases of COVID-19 reported on Sunday, with 2,102 active cases in the province. There are 38 patients on mechanical ventilators.

Almost 40 per cent of youth in B.C. have had one dose of Pfizer as of Sunday.

dcarrigg@postmedia.com


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