COVID-19 Delta variant accounts for 89% of new infections in Interior

Delta variant widespread

The Delta variant now accounts for the vast majority of all recent COVID-19 infections in B.C.'s Interior.

In its weekly update, the BC Centre for Disease Control says 89 per cent of the 314 positive tests between July 18 and 24 in the Interior Health region were B.1.617.2, or Delta variant. The other 11 per cent of cases were the P.1, or Gamma variant.

This high proportion of the Delta variant is somewhat unique to the Interior. Over the same period, 61 per cent of new cases provincewide were the Delta variant, with the Gamma variant making up 28 per cent and the B.1.1.7, or Alpha variant coming in at 10 per cent. Variants of some kind now make up about 99 per cent of all new cases in B.C.

Vancouver Island is dealing with solely new Delta variant cases, but that region saw only 30 new cases between July 18 and 24.

The Delta variant was first discovered in India in late 2020, and it's become the most transmissible variant of the COVID-19 virus to date.

The proliferation of the Delta variant is one reason for the widespread transmission of the virus in the Interior in recent weeks, particularly in the Central Okanagan.

On Wednesday, Interior Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak across the entire region, and reinstated the indoor public mask mandate in the Central Okanagan only. More than half of B.C.'s daily COVID-19 cases now regularly come from the Interior, despite the region making up less than 15 per cent of the province's population.

The most recent geographical data from the BC CDC shows the daily infection case rate in parts of Kelowna has skyrocketed to levels only seen in the worst hit parts of Surrey during the peak of the third wave this spring.

Downtown Kelowna has been the worst hit, with an average daily infection rate of 40 cases per 100,000 between July 23 and July 29. This works out to more than 100 new infections over that week period in Downtown Kelowna alone.

The Glenmore area saw an daily infection rate of 30 cases per 100,000 people, while Rutland posted a daily rate of 21 per 100,000 people.

As a result of the high concentration of new cases in the region, the BC CDC has begun using a new colour on its COVID case rate map to accurately show the high case rates in Downtown Kelowna, Glenmore and Rutland.

Case rates have also increased significantly in the past week in the Okanagan Mission, West Kelowna and Lake Country, reaching 19, 18 and 12 daily infections per 100,000 people respectively.

Meanwhile, new cases have plummeted in the Lower Mainland in the past month. While Surrey was once by far the worst hit spot in the province, with close to 2,000 weekly cases back in April, the city now sees an average of just one daily infection per 100,000 people.

Interior Health continues to push Central Okanagan residents to get vaccinated, to help curb the spread of the virus.


Florida breaks daily record with more than 21,000 new COVID cases

21,000 new Florida cases

Florida has reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, the state’s highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic, according to federal health data released Saturday.

The state reached the new record as it become a new epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory mask mandates and vaccine requirements, and along with the Florida Legislature, has limited local officials’ ability to impose measures meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday showed how quickly the number of cases is rising in the Sunshine State. Only a day earlier, Florida reported 17,093 new daily cases.

The previous peak in Florida had been 19,334 cases reported on Jan. 7.

B.C. had 243 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths, in past 24 hours

243 new cases, no deaths

New daily COVID-19 cases continue to rise in B.C., largely pushed by rising case counts in the Interior.

There were 243 new cases of the virus identified in the province in the past 24 hours, including 131 in the Interior.

The new cases bring the total positive tests in the province to 149,889, but there remains 1,231 active cases. Active cases have been steadily rising for days, jumping by 176 since Thursday. More than half of B.C.'s active cases, 693, are among Interior residents.

COVID-19 hospitalizations across B.C. dropped by four Friday, to 47, and 16 are in intensive care.

No new COVID-related deaths were announced Friday, and to date, a total of 1,771 people with COVID-19 have died in B.C. Of these people, 161 have been Interior residents.

Another 41,948 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the past 24 hours.

As of Friday, 81.1 per cent, or 3,758,385 eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose, while 64.9 per cent, or 3,008,360 people, have received their second dose.

Those who haven't registered to get a vaccine yet can do so here, but pop-up vaccination clinics are coming to the Central Okanagan through the weekend, where preregistration is not required.

Due to the outbreak in the Central Okanagan announced Wednesday, residents in the region can now receive their second dose after 28 days, rather than 49 days in the rest of the province.

There remains active COVID-19 outbreaks at the Nelson Jubilee Manor and Maple Ridge's Holyrood Manor.


B.C. has no plans to follow Alberta in lifting COVID-19 protocols

No plans to follow Alberta

As Alberta plans to reel in its COVID-19 public health protocols by mid-August, B.C. has no plans to follow suit any time soon.

This week, Alberta's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced that on Aug. 16, people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be required to isolate while routine contact tracing will end, outside of high-risk settings. The move has been met with backlash from many.

During a press conference Friday, B.C.'s Health Minister Adrian Dix made it clear that the COVID-19 protocols in place in B.C. will stay for the foreseeable future.

“We have no plans, none, to change our requirements around self-isolation in B.C. We have no plans, none, to change our approach to contact tracing in B.C.,” Dix said.

“The public health part of our response will continue to be substantial and meet the necessary needs of people who get sick with COVID-19.”

Dix said while restrictions continue to ease in B.C., the public health protocols for people who do contract the virus become even more important.

He added that Alberta has "outstanding public health leadership," but he didn't comment on whether he agreed with Alberta's move.

While Dix was asked about concerns over Albertans who may travel to B.C. following the changes there, he didn't directly address the question. Even when travel restrictions were put in place between health authorities in B.C. last spring, travellers from Alberta were never barred from entering the province.

Dix also stressed the importance of becoming immunized moving forward, and noted that vaccination rates for those under 50 is less in the Interior than the rest of the province. A pop-up vaccination clinic is coming to downtown Kelowna over the long weekend.

Federal modelling warns of fourth COVID wave driven by Delta if reopening is too fast

Warning of another wave

Federal officials are warning that Canada could be on the brink of a fourth wave of COVID-19 driven by the highly contagious Delta variant if the country opens too fast before enough people have been vaccinated.

Canada's chief public health officer says long-term forecasts indicate that a hasty approach to reopening could portend a sharp resurgence of the virus by the end of the summer.

Dr. Theresa Tam says the new modelling underscores the need for caution in lifting public health measures as early signs of epidemic growth emerge in some areas.

Tam says officials expect that the Delta variant could fuel the spread of the virus among younger unvaccinated people, leading to a serious rise of case counts and hospitalization rates this fall and winter.

Tam says increasing vaccine acceptance among young adults aged 18 to 39 to 80 per cent from 72 per cent could cushion the fallout of a potential fourth wave.

She says current COVID-19 case counts have plummeted by 93 per cent since the peak of the third wave, for an average of 640 new infections being reported daily over the past seven days.

Conservatives push feds to ensure Canadians who got mixed vaccines can travel abroad

Mixed vaccines and travel?

The federal Conservatives are urging the Liberal government to do more to ensure that Canadians who received two different doses of COVID-19 vaccines are able to travel internationally.

Tory health critic Michelle Rempel Garner sent a letter Thursday to Health Minister Patty Hajdu highlighting multiple reports of Canadians being barred entry to countries due to their mixed vaccinations.

The Calgary Nose Hill MP saidin the absence of federal direction, provincial health authorities have begun to offer third doses to Canadians who need to travel where their vaccination status is not recognized abroad.

She saidthe Quebec Health Department is telling potential recipients the safety of this practice is unclear and that they should seek advice to weigh the risks of a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

The department said in a news release on Monday that a third dose was an "exceptional measure" for people who have essential travel plans in the short-term and need to meet vaccination requirements.

Rempel Garner is calling on the Liberal government to release federal guidelines on the issue of third doses so that Canadians can make safe, informed choices.

In the absence of data to support third doses, she saidthe government must release a plan to have a mixed vaccination status recognized internationally.

"Canadians listened to your advice and got vaccinated. Telling them what your government is doing to ensure that their vaccination status is recognized abroad is the very least you can do," she saidin the letter.

Rempel Garner's letter follows a similar plea from Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott earlier this week for Ottawa to work with the World Health Organization to ensure that mixing vaccines is internationally accepted as a complete vaccine regimen.

Hajdu's office said in a statement Thursday that it continues to work with provinces and territories on a proof of vaccination for international travel that may be required by other countries.

The U.S. has been reluctant to sanction the practice of following a Moderna shot with a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, or vice versa, while many European countries don't recognize the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot made at the Serum Institute of India, which may impact Canadians who received it.

Several cruise lines have also said they won't accept customers who have received different types or brands of vaccines.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland are among the many Canadians who received a mixture of COVID-19 vaccine doses. Trudeau and Freeland received Oxford-AstraZeneca as a first dose and Moderna as a second.

Freeland said last week that the advice allowing Canadians to get mixed doses was science-based, noting there is research that shows getting two different doses offers superior protection.

"As finance minister, I attended the G20 meeting in Italy earlier this month and there was certainly recognition of my double vaccination status there with the mixed doses," she told reporters while speaking virtually in Whitehorse.

Businesses, tourism sector worried about impact of local virus restrictions in Central Okanagan

Concern over mask mandate

Madison Erhardt

Come to the Central Okanagan, but only if you’re fully vaccinated.

That is the message from the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) and Tourism Kelowna after the provincial government announced new local steps Wednesday to try and lower COVID-19 cases.

A new regional mask policy was announced by Interior Health after 240 new cases of the virus were identified among Central Okanagan residents in the last week.

Along with the indoor mask mandate, the province is now discouraging non-essential travel into and out of the Central Okanagan for people who are not immunized.

TOTA says after an extremely tough 15 months they are concerned about how it might affect the industry, but she says it is a necessary step.

‘’I think the bigger concern is that if we don’t address it now and get things under control we will continue to lose ground. We have done so well up until now. I think that doing this to make sure that we nip it in the bud and we get a good rest of the summer and fall is very important," said senior vice president Ellen Walker-Matthews.

Tourism Kelowna president and CEO Lisanne Ballantyne says the change will likely impact frontline staff the most.

“We know especially with having dealt with the haze and smoke recently that this is going to have an impact on our tourism businesses. Primarily it is going to be our frontline staff I’m afraid. These are the folks who are dealing with the public every day, and because this health order is only for the Central Okanagan, many travellers don't realize that it is in effect and it is the frontline staff that have to do the education."

The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce says the regional mandate has also caused some confusion amongst businesses.

"Earlier this year we were loud and clear along with chambers across the Interior when our numbers were extremely low we petitioned the province to do regional decision making because the rates were so high in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley they introduced the circuit breaker," said Kelowna Chamber of Commerce president Dan Rogers.

"When they did that it had a massive impact on our businesses even though our rates were low. The line we heard from the province at that time was all of our decisions would be made province-wide and there won't be any regionally based decision making. Now they have flip-flopped," Rogers added.

The Interior's vaccination rate is slightly lower than the provincial average, with 60 per cent of eligible people having received both doses, compared to B.C.'s 63.2 per cent.

Interior Health did not announce an end date for the new measure but says it will be in place for "at least 14 days.

B.C. had 204 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths, in past 24 hours

204 new cases, no deaths

New COVID-19 cases continue to rise in British Columbia, with another 204 new cases announced Thursday, 107 of which came from the Interior.

The new cases, the most in B.C. since early June, bring the total positive tests in the province to 149,648, but there remains 1,055 active cases. Active cases jumped by 146 since Wednesday, and 600 of the province's total active cases are among Interior residents.

COVID-19 hospitalizations across B.C. rose by four Thursday, to 51, including 20 who are in intensive care.

No new COVID-related deaths were announced Thursday, and to date, a total of 1,771 people with COVID-19 have died in B.C. Of these people, 161 have been Interior residents.

Another 46,327 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the past 24 hours.

As of Thursday, 81 per cent, or 3,753,057 eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose, while 64.1 per cent, or 2,971,793 people, have received their second dose.

Those who haven't registered to get a vaccine yet can do so here, but a number of pop-up vaccination clinics are coming to the Central Okanagan in the coming days, where preregistration is not required.

Due to the outbreak in the Central Okanagan announced Wednesday, residents in the region can now receive their second dose after 28 days, rather than 49 days in the rest of the province.

There remains active COVID-19 outbreaks at the Nelson Jubilee Manor and Maple Ridge's Holyrood Manor.

Interior Health will make COVID-19 vaccinations available in downtown Kelowna starting Friday

Downtown vaccine clinic

Interior Health will hold a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in downtown Kelowna for the next several days.

In conjunction with the Downtown Kelowna Association, the clinic will be held in the lobby of the Kelowna Yacht Club beginning Friday.

The pop-up clinic will be held from 3 p.m. to 7p.m. for five consecutive days, and will be re-evaluated after that time to determine whether it will continue.

Anyone who has not yet received a first vaccination, or those 28 days past their first shot in welcome to drop in. No appointments are necessary.

Access to the clinic is from the boardwalk entrance.

There have been calls for a downtown clinic as positive COVID-19 cases swell in the Central Okanagan.

Interior Health declared an outbreak in the Central Okanagan Wednesday after it was revealed 240 positive cases had been recorded over the past seven days.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry brought back a mask mandate for the region from Peachland to Lake Country, making the wearing of masks mandatory indoors.

That mandate is expected to run for at least 14 days.

Calgary mayor says lifting remaining COVID-19 health orders 'height of insanity'

Lifting orders 'insanity'

Calgary's mayor says it's the "height of insanity" that Alberta is moving ahead with removing almost all of its remaining COVID-19 public health orders.

As of today, close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be notified of exposure by contact tracers nor will they be legally required to isolate.

The province is also ending asymptomatic testing.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it inconceivable that the announcement would be made at the same time as cases have nearly tripled from recent weeks.

He says the decision puts Albertans' health at risk.

Nenshi suggests that even the most fervent of anti-maskers wouldn't agree with allowing people who have COVID-19 to be allowed in public.

Lotteries? Mandates? Key to vaccinations might simply be education

Education the key in jabs?

With COVID-19 immunization rates in France trailing most other developed economies, French President Emmanuel Macron decreed in mid-July that residents would require special health passes to visit everything from cinemas to the country’s ubiquitous sidewalk cafés.

Within 48 hours, more than 2.2 million appointments for vaccinations were booked in the country where vaccine hesitancy is more widespread than in Canada.

As an increasing number of American states and Canadian provinces launch lotteries as inoculation incentives, could similar initiatives and mandates boost B.C.’s vaccination rates?

Heidi Tworek, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs who specializes in health communications, said it’s not clear if incentives such as lotteries are effective.

“Vaccine hesitancy in Canada has decreased quite substantially because when you see your friends and family getting vaccinated, your concerns about safety are alleviated,” she told BIV.

Tworek said factors such as trusted members of the community getting and encouraging vaccinations, and government ensuring there’s an easy pathway to receive a jab are far more effective at reaching immunization goals.

“Those things are in the end going to persuade a greater number of people potentially than just a lottery without answering all of those other sorts of questions,” she said.

A July Research Co. poll reveals that 88% of Canadians would get a vaccine when it becomes available to them, while 8% would not and 4% remain unsure.

Back in April, as the vaccine campaign was ramping up, only 73% of Canadians said they would get vaccinated.

Earlier this week, the province embarked on a new vaccination strategy aimed primarily at those who have not yet gotten their jabs.

Mass vaccination clinics will be giving way to smaller outreach clinics, mobile vaccination vans and pop-up clinics at popular spots such as Playland and farmers’ markets, among other locations, as part of the Vax for B.C. campaign. The effort is aimed at facilitating vaccinations for those who are otherwise willing but have not had an opportunity yet.

Meanwhile, Ohio, the first American state to introduce a lottery system for randomly selected vaccine recipients, wrapped its Vax-a-Million campaign last month. It has yet to reach a two-dose vaccination rate of 50% (B.C. cracked that threshold earlier this month after a laggard start compared with Ohio).

Ontario’s top doctor, Dr. Kieran Moore, said last week he doesn’t believe lotteries or other incentives are needed yet to get more people in that province vaccinated.

And so far Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta are the only provinces to introduce incentives to encourage vaccinations. Everything from cash to grants for communities to outdoor adventures are up for grabs.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but I do believe that we can get to our objectives without incentives,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said last month.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, has also expressed reluctance to implement such measures on the West Coast.

“Right now, we’re not considering incentives, but that’s something that is always in there,” she said in May. “I know many young people in my life tell me that they are going to be vaccinated – also because they want to get their life back. And that is an incentive for all of us. We can see how effective it is in other communities around the world.”

Meanwhile, an online clinic aimed at vaccine-hesitant parents launched in Alberta this past spring. Users require a referral from a doctor to visit the Virtual Kids COVID Clinic, but Tworek said it’s proving effective at educating parents and encouraging them to get their children vaccinated.

“The point is you can’t put all your eggs in any one basket,” she said. “There’s going to be a range of different policies that you pursue and then maybe those incentives could work, but they’re not going to be a panacea.”

BC's Liberal health critic asks what is triggering a return to mask mandates in Central Okanagan

MLA: Why restrictions?

Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield wants to know what standards British Columbians are being held to in the fight against COVID-19.

In a tweet following the reintroduction of mask mandates across the Central Okanagan, the Liberal health critic wondered where the goal posts are.

"The key line to keep an eye on is hospitalizations. COVID isn't going anywhere - cases will rise & fall. As we've vaccinated the vulnerable, hospitalizations decreased. Fewer in ICU. That was the goal of the early PHO measures. Seems the goal posts have now moved," she tweeted.

Contacted for clarification by Castanet News, Merrifield said she is not questioning the decision after it was discovered 240 positive cases have surfaced in the Central Okanagan over the past seven days, but rather what the guidelines for such a move are.

"It used to be that the guidelines were being made to keep people from hospitalizations and deaths, and this seems different than that," said Merrifield.

"I think British Columbians and Okanagians need to know what we are being held to. I think the rationalization is a change, so I am asking what triggers those rationalizations."

Merrifield says communities want to know what the guidelines are so they can take the steps necessary to avoid these additional restrictions.

"I know that we often see a lag between case counts and hospitalizations. I'm going to be watching that closely.

"One of the indicators of the end of the pandemic is when there is a decoupling of case counts and hospitalizations and deaths. The hope is what we are doing with vaccinations allows us that."

She says it is heartening to see hospitalizations and deaths have not increased.

Kelowna's mayor, meanwhile, says the new mask mandate is disappointing and a huge concern.

He thanked those who have heeded medical advice and received their vaccination, saying it's unfortunate the minority are disappointing the majority.

"What you are doing by not getting vaccinated is not only putting people's health in jeopardy, but you continue to impact someone's ability to make a living," said Basran.

"I can't think of any other scenario where somebody would impact someone's health, impact their ability to earn a living, where we would just accept that.

"In my opinion, it's unacceptable that somebody is choosing not to get vaccinated unless there is a legitimate health reason not to."

Basran says he likes what France has done in making vaccination passports, or a negative test a requirement for people if they want to go to a restaurant, cafe, bar or movie theatres.

While not specifically endorsing the same for B.C. or Canada, Basran says he applauds the move.

"I applaud them for taking such a strong stance. I applaud them for trying."

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