The recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the Central Okanagan is similar to the situation last summer that saw Interior Health declare a cluster outbreak in Kelowna, according to the region’s top doctor.
However, this time, the new cases are almost entirely among people who haven’t been fully immunized.
“The majority of the cases we’re seeing have either not been immunized or they have only received one dose of the vaccine,” said Interior Health chief medical health officer Dr. Sue Pollock.
Since July 1, when the province entered its third stage of reopening, Pollock said 70 per cent of local cases have been among unvaccinated people and 26 per cent had only one dose of vaccine.
From July 16 to 22, the most recent data available from the B.C. Centre For Disease Control, the Central Okanagan noted 99 cases of the virus, amounting to 20 per cent of all provincial cases. That’s more than double the next highest local health area, Surrey, where officials recorded 47 cases. Over the weekend, July 23 to 25, Interior Health as a whole saw 155 new cases, more than three times the number of any other health authority in B.C.
Through July and August 2020, Interior Health linked 171 cases within its region to transmission beginning at Canada Day parties in Kelowna. Via contact tracing, hundreds of cases across B.C. were linked to the Kelowna cluster event, but that exact number is unknown.
This year, Pollock said the Central Okanagan is seeing a similar trend. Again, Interior Health is attributing new local cases to social gatherings among younger people — in their 20s and 30s, said Pollock. Over the weekend, the health authority noted a cluster of cases tied to transmission at Gotham Nightclub and in the following days, several local restaurants announced precautionary, voluntary closures due to COVID-19 exposures.
Despite the increase in the local case count, Pollock said the number of people being hospitalized remains low — with five in hospital and six in critical care as of July 26.
“I think that is largely (due to) the fact we have most of our elderly population, senior population protected with two doses of vaccine,” she said.
For the most part, however, Interior Health lags behind the 82 per cent provincial average on vaccine uptake. Revelstoke and Golden, where the vaccine was offered much earlier due to cluster events, are the only two Interior communities with first dose rates at or above the average. The Central Okanagan remains at 74 per cent — one of the lowest uptakes among metro areas in the province.
Interior Health hasn’t declared another cluster outbreak in Kelowna, but officials are monitoring the situation in the Central Okanagan closely. Pollock said the health authority’s main tool for avoiding another cluster event is encouraging people to get vaccinated.