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Increased contacts fueling rise in COVID-19 cases: Island Health top doctor

COVID-19 will never truly go away.

So says Island Health chief medical health Officer, Dr. Richard Stanwick, who told the media during a Zoom call that the virus will likely be with us forever.

“I think we have to recognize, we will never eliminate this virus,” Stanwick said. “We’re going to have to learn how to live with COVID, to manage it, to control it, just like we do with influenza likely every season. This is the virus, that, right now, we’ve got to blunt its impact.”

For the short term, Dr. Stanwick says a big concern on Vancouver Island is the number of people now coming into contact with someone who’s infected.

For much of the last year, the average was fewer than two per case. That number has more than doubled.

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“What really is a significant number is we have 1,162 individuals in isolation. Part of that is being driven by 4.3 contacts per case. For much of the last  year we were running at less than two per case.”

Dr. Stanwick says that’s a reflection of people socializing more indoors, and not following physical distancing rules.

With a spike in COVID-19 cases across B.C., provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a three-week ban on indoor activities such as restaurant dining, adult group fitness, and limited indoor worship. 

Dr. Stanwick says these “circuit breaker” measures had to be put in place.

“We really had hoped that we wouldn’t be seeing this surge associated with our traditional spring break time. I think the consequences of what we witnessed, in terms of how people acted and certainly socialized during that time, prompted a response.”

There is hope with the promise that every British Columbian who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will get one by July 1st.

Asked if we’re still on track to meet that target date, Dr. Stanwick said, “absolutely.”

“As we continue to expand our abilities to vaccinate, in the coming weeks we’re going to be shifting to an even larger site,” he explained. 

“The convention centre in Victoria is just one example. In some locations what we’ll be doing is, they’re so small, remote, and for efficiency purposes, immunizing everyone over the age of 18 in that community because it just doesn’t make sense for us to keep going back for a handful of people as we follow the different age cohorts.”

Dr. Stanwick says the province has “big, long-term plans” but the key is making sure their logistics match the aspirations.

“To date, it does look like we’re on track and it’s going to be just critical that the vaccine supply remains constant. I think the biggest anxiety is that there’d be some sort of hiccup in the vaccine supply. That would probably be the most likely impediment for us reaching our target.”

And what would B.C. look like after every adult who wants to get immunized gets their jab?

Dr. Stanwick says the vaccines are meant to mitigate the most severe impacts of the virus. That is, keeping down the number of people who end up in hospital or dying from COVID.

He added that we may see a shift where we may be able tolerate certain levels of cases, but we’re not seeing the dire consequences.

“If we get closer to the July 1st target, and we’re basically seeing even low numbers of cases, I think Dr. Henry would look at where the ones (cases) continue to come from, and lifting activities in areas where it’s not.”

He also envisions safety measures to stay in place in a post-COVID world, and possibly an annual vaccination program. 

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