(Province of British Columbia/Flickr)

The provincial health officer’s last live press briefing before Christmas carried a note of relief and positivity for more than one reason.

Latest data and epidemiological modelling shared by the Ministry of Health shows that COVID-19 transmission rates have flattened compared to highs of 800+ new cases per day.

The peak for new cases was reached in mid-November, and the numbers have been on the decline since new provincial restrictions on gatherings, businesses, etc. were put in place.

On Wednesday, December 23, the province recorded 518 new cases.

(Ministry of Health)

What remains concerning is that the rate of hospitalization due to COVID-19 is now the highest it has ever been since the start of the pandemic in B.C.

Death rates have also reached new highs; on Wednesday, the province reported 19 COVID-related deaths in a 24-hour period.

The vast majority of people who have died of COVID-19 in BC were older, aged 70 or more. However one person in their 30s and four people in their 40s have lost their lives to the virus so far this year.

While the news on hospitalizations and deaths is grim, it is important to remember that those statistics lag behind case rates, and are expected to reduce as transmission slows down.

The latest modelling shows that the province’s reproductive rate or R-naught number (the number of people an infected person comes into contact with and infects with the virus) is now hovering slightly below one.

When the R-naught is below one, it indicates that a person infected with COVID-19 does not transmit the virus to anyone else.

According to Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbians are currently at 40 to 50 per cent of regular contacts, and continuing at this level would keep decreasing virus transmission.

“What we are doing is working, but we cannot let up. It would not take much for us to get back into a danger zone again,” Henry said on Wednesday.

(Ministry of Health)

Another piece of good news is that since Health Canada approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday morning, BC is now slated to receive the first doses next week.

The Moderna vaccine is more flexible and can be broken down into 100 doses per allocation. This, combined with the fact that it does not need to be stored at ultra low temperatures and can be stored at fridge temperatures for longer periods of time, makes it ideal for use in rural areas.

This afternoon, Henry added that the Pfizer vaccine can now also be taken to settings outside its original point of delivery, and can therefore be administered at certain other select sites across the province that are capable of storing them.

Combined, the province expects to have 792,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines delivered by March, 2021.

“I’m excited and thankful and grateful that we have vaccines and this is the start of our being able to protect people,” Henry added.

BC’s immunization plan now details how many doses of the vaccine are reserved for which priority groups between December to February and February to March:

The first few doses of the Moderna vaccine will be arriving on Vancouver Island next week.

Island Health is now working to identify which long term care homes will be the first to receive these doses.

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