B.C. health officials announced another eight deaths from COVID-19 Thursday in their last pandemic briefing of the year, putting the provincial death toll at 901.
More than half of those deaths – 460 – were recorded this month alone as the province struggled to keep the coronavirus out of long-term care homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals.
“Our deep condolences go to all of the families who have suffered losses this year, all of the care providers and the communities,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
“We’re thinking of them today,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix. “We hold them dearly in our hearts.”
Three new health-care outbreaks were announced Thursday as well, at Williams Lake Seniors Village, Ridge Meadows Hospital and the Langley Memorial Hospital long-term care centre.
Two other outbreaks, at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Banfield Pavilion, have ended, leaving 61 active outbreaks in B.C.’s health-care system.
Health officials said 683 new infections have been identified since Wednesday afternoon, bringing the province’s total for 2020 to 51,983 cases.
B.C. has recorded an average of 482 cases per day over the last week, a significant drop from the average of 758 recorded at the end of November. Health officials have noted that testing decreased over the holidays, which could account for the some of the recent drop.
Henry said the announcement of nearly 700 cases on Thursday also “reminds us that we are still in a very precarious situation.”
“We can only look around us – whether it’s other jurisdictions here in Canada, around the world, our partners to the south – where we see this virus continues to wreak havoc and cause illness and death,” she said.
A total of 42,129 people have now recovered from COVID-19 in B.C., leaving 7,803 active cases across the province. Hospitalizations decreased slightly to 374 on Thursday, which includes 76 patients in intensive care and critical care units.
Speaking hours before the beginning of the new year, Henry and Dix once again urged the public to avoid gatherings and celebrate responsibly – either with their own household or through a virtual party.
“Many of us will be ordering our favourite meals in, myself included,” Henry said. “Whatever your plans may be this evening, please remember how important it is to follow the public health orders and restrictions. The actions of a small group of people, as we have seen before, can have consequences.”
On Wednesday, officials announced a last-minute tweak to the public health orders cutting off liquor sales at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve – a move that prompted some people to cancel their reservations, and frustrated restaurant owners.
Henry encouraged people who changed their minds about dining out on New Year’s Eve to consider supporting their restaurants over the weekend, or at a later date. She also stressed the need to avoid people getting too loose and making poor decisions that could affect the province’s fight against COVID-19.
“Alcohol, as we know and as we have seen far too many times this year, limits our inhibitions. What can begin as a quiet dinner with our household or a drink with a friend can too easily get out of control,” she said.
She also indicated health officials had been made aware of “holiday celebrations being planned, some for several hundreds people.”
Meanwhile, the province’s vaccination rollout continues, with a total of 17,510 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines now administered across all health authority regions.
The arrival this week of the Moderna vaccine, which is more easily transported, also allowed B.C. to deliver doses to remote areas for the first time.
“We’ve had the first immunizations in some of our more at-risk, remote and rural communities, including some of our First Nations communities across British Columbia,” Henry said. “It’s a very happy moment for all of us to be able to protect the elders and seniors in these communities.”