(Dr. Bonnie Henry)

On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry delivered some good news about the state of the pandemic in B.C., against the backdrop of a major jump in new cases in the Vancouver Island Health region.

Based on epidemiological modelling data presented on Monday, Henry stated that the daily COVID-19 case curve is starting to flatten again in B.C. as residents have reduced their number of regular contacts to 45 per cent of normal.

This is because while testing rates increased by 15 per cent over previous weeks, the rate of positive cases has dropped by 23 per cent, meaning only 1.6 per cent of people tested in British Columbia were infected with COVID-19 last week.

Further, data shows that the reproductive number or R0 has now dropped to around 1, which means that each positive COVID-19 case transmits the virus to about one other person—an ideal number for flattening the curve.

Henry added that it is important to keep up this low level of contacts as we head into the respiratory illness season, in order to keep decreasing the number of daily cases per day.

Dynamic modelling shows that if British Columbians maintain 45 per cent of regular contacts, daily cases could drop to around 50 per day by November.

While province-wide, the trends indicate good news, Vancouver Island Health region remains in the throes of an overwhelmed COVID-19 testing system.

Over three days, between Friday October 2 and Monday October 5, 11 people tested positive in the region, representing a big jump in cases for a health authority accustomed to just one or two new cases per day, if any.

According to Henry, a few of those 11 cases are related to each other, some are travel-related, but most are individual cases unrelated to any outbreaks or exposure events. One case is the known subject of an exposure alert in a high school in Port Alberni.

However many people looking to get tested in the region have reported hours long wait times to book an appointment.

Once successful in getting a test booked, many report having to wait several days before the test is actually administered.

Henry says these backlogs are a result of more demand for testing that “came on more quickly than expected and quickly overwhelmed the system.”

“I know [Island Health] are working on many different strategies to try and improve that, including bringing on more people to be able to man the phone lines, [and] making sure testing sites [have] expanded hours,” said Henry in response to a Victoria Buzz question on the subject.

Slow responses and lack of enough daily testing capacity are not a new problem for the Vancouver Island Health region. Back in August, the authority reported a surge in demand for cases which, combined with technical difficulties, resulted in hours-long wait times to speak to a health professional.

At the time, the issue was being dealt with by Island Health who were in the process of hiring and training an additional 45 employees to man the phone lines. They were expected to be able to field around 1,000 calls per day.

There is no current information on how many tests are being requested per day in the region, and whether the authority is working on hiring more staff.

For now, Island dwellers will just have to wait for their tests, as there is no timeline available for when these issues will be resolved.