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Fourth wave of unvaccinated could force renewal of restrictions, experts say

About 4.6 million of B.C.'s 5.1 million population are age 12 and older and eligible for vaccination.
specimens
Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at LifeLabs after being logged upon receipt at the company's lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020.

A group of B.C. scientists and researchers is calling for some COVID-19 restrictions to be renewed if hospitals are to avoid being ­overwhelmed by a fourth wave of unvaccinated patients in the fall.

The B.C. COVID-19 modelling group says if the current trajectory of infections continues and no action is taken, there could be 10,000 to 12,000 cases a day in October and hospitals could see bed shortages.

“We’re sounding the alarm and saying this trajectory is not headed to a good place and we’re going to need to change direction,” said Caroline Colijn, co-founder of the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, which published its report Wednesday.

The province reported 689 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday — including 121 people in hospital, of whom 56 are in intensive care — for a total of 5,982 active cases.

In Island Health there were 42 new cases for a total 346 active cases.

The modellers’ projections are based on new COVID-19 cases continuing to double every seven to 10 days.

If that occurs, there’s “enough unvaccinated people that ­infections among them could produce serious pressure on our health-care system,” said Colijn.

About 4.6 million of B.C.’s 5.1 million population are age 12 and older and eligible for vaccination. Seventy-five per cent of those, or 3.4 million, are fully vaccinated.

“This is really a wave amongst the unvaccinated,” said Island Health medical health officer Mike Benusic.

Breakthrough infections are rare and less likely to cause serious illness and death, he said.

“The proportion of people unvaccinated is quite small ­relative to those who are ­vaccinated and so even with increased COVID activity, it’s not like our hospitals are going to become overwhelmed,” said Benusic.

But the modelling group says given how transmissible the Delta variant is — the large majority of cases — the current rate of vaccination is not enough “to prevent a large wave as we move into fully reopening,”said Colijn.

The final phase of reopening was set for Sept. 7 at the earliest. School children are scheduled to return that week.

If we want to prevent the ­projections by the modelling group, there’s a number of levers to pull including a mask mandate, vaccine mandates, ­distancing measures and expanded use of rapid testing, said Colijn.

The B.C. Government Employees’ Union and B.C. Teachers’ Federation are calling for a mask mandate, among others.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com