Latest COVID wave appears to have peaked in B.C., say independent researchers

There had been dire warnings they would potentially break B.C.’s health care system, but the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of COVID-19 don’t appear to have had that effect.

A group of independent COVID-19 modellers, made up of various experts, says it looks like the most recent wave of the pandemic has peaked.

“Although the BA.5 variant does have mutations that does allow it to escape immunity and hide from our immune system, that’s of course only partial and we do have strong immunity in B.C. from vaccinations and from past infections,” explained Caroline Colijn, a Canada 150 Research Chair at SFU and part of the modelling group.

“So, those things put together have led the BA.5 wave to be pretty small in B.C., smaller than BA.2 we think and, of course, much smaller than BA.1. And that’s also partly probably [because of] summer, that people are enjoying good weather and being outside and probably reduced indoor contact.”

Colijn thinks the wave could have been worse.

“I think there were signs from the mutational profile of the virus and from the early rate of growth that it could have been a larger surge that took longer, but as we saw, it seems to have been a relatively small surge. There are still quite high levels in some of the wastewater signal … and it looks like hospitalizations hadn’t yet peaked in the last data point towards the end of July.”

Despite this, Colijn stresses it doesn’t mean we’re anywhere near close to being done with COVID-19.

“I think we should remember infections do happen on the way down. It’s not that when a surge starts to recede that, ‘OK, there are no more infections now.’ People do still get infected, and I think COVID is still with us and we will see new evolution,” said Colijn, who adds experts are not seeing signs of something that is not Omicron that’s arriving right now.

As we head into the fall and winter, Colijn admits it’s not easy to predict what will happen with the virus.

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However, Colijn points out it’s possible we’ll see another uptick in cases as people head back indoors and return to their regular schedules.

“I think we need to be aware of that and we need to be planning for boosters in the fall and that can protect people from disease if they do get infected and especially after a booster you’re protected fairly well from infection and that can really reduce transmission. I think we’ll look to that and I think we’ll keep monitoring the virus internationally and locally for what it’s doing and whether there are signs of new viruses, new types of COVID that are emerging that might require a response.”

Colijn stresses the importance of taking the same precautions we have been for a couple of years, including social distancing and wearing a mask indoors, as we move forward.

The provincial government says it has enough vaccine supply right now for second boosters to be rolled out in the fall but has not given an exact date for when that will happen.

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