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Opinion: Delta COVID-19 variant has 'taken root' in B.C.'s Interior

Cases higher in areas with lower vaccination rates
COVID-19 swab in lab Photo: Getty Images

B.C.’s daily COVID-19 case count is on the rise again but that increase so far is not posing the danger that it did back in the spring when cases were surging and people were being hospitalized by the hundreds every week.

We can thank our high vaccination rate for being in a much safer place now, even with the coronavirus still swirling.

Health officials are keeping a wary eye on the Interior Health Authority situation, as the Delta variant of COVID-19 has taken root there.

In the first week of this month, the Delta variant was responsible for about 55% of the cases detected in the Interior, up from 11% the week before. Now it is responsible for 74% of the cases, a higher proportion than anywhere else (it is at about 41% for the entire province).

The Delta variant is much more transmissible than other variants of concern and, coupled with significantly lower vaccination levels in many Interior towns, it means that health authority has reported the highest number of cases almost every day for the past few weeks.

Although just 18% of the population lives within Interior Health, that region has reported 46% of the cases of all COVID-19 in B.C. since the Delta variant began its rise there at the start of this month.

Contrast that situation with the one in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. Even with about 25% more people compared to the Interior, VCH has reported just 20% of the cases over that same period.

It must be noted that the vaccination rate in VCH (which covers Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore and the Sunshine Coast) is the highest in the province, at more than 85%. That high rate has prevented the Delta variant from doing as much damage (it comprises about 39% of the cases there).

The vaccination rate in Interior Health is significantly lower at 73.5%. In towns such as Creston, Nelson, Williams Lake and Armstrong, the first-dose rate has hovered around the mid-60 percentile.

The combination of the more contagious Delta variant with lower vaccine rates means the case numbers will surely rise in the Interior for some time yet.

Again, the good news is that those daily case numbers do not mean quite what they did before as more people get at least a first dose in their arm, thus providing themselves with a significant level of protection.

The key statistics are now hospitalizations, critical care and deaths, and all are stable or dropping in number.

For example, fewer than 100 people have needed to be hospitalized with COVID-19 so far this month (we were averaging almost 400 hospitalizations a week in April). Fewer than 20 people have died from the virus, less than half the number in June.

Last week saw a total 511 cases of COVID-19, a jump of almost 75% over the week previous. But just 10 people were sick enough to require hospitalization.

The daily case numbers just aren’t what they used to be, and that’s a good thing.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.