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Is B.C. on the cusp of a third COVID-19 wave?

Last Updated Mar 18, 2021 at 11:43 am PDT

A sign inside Hastings Elementary Community School in Vancouver reminds anyone entering the school to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS1130 photo)

SFU epidemiologist says B.C. has seen a rise in cases lately, possibly driven by the B.1.1.7 variant of concern

Defining a 'wave' can be difficult because it's 'a matter of semantics,' says expert

Expert says we all have a role to play, and a third wave of COVID-19 isn't inevitable in B.C.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Scientists in Ontario have declared a third wave of COVID-19, and an expert in B.C. believes we could be on the same path.

SFU epidemiologist Caroline Colijn believes by some metrics, we might already be in the early stages.

“We are seeing, over the last few weeks, a kind of rise in cases, I think possibly driven by the B.1.1.7 variant of concern,” she said.

Colijn says defining a “wave” can be difficult because “it’s kind of a matter of semantics.”

“I think we’ve gone with this ‘wave’ language to describe … ‘We’ve gotten this to go down for awhile and now we’re going to let it go up, and we’re going to call it another wave.’ I think that’s what’s happening,” she said.

Related article: Ontario in third wave of COVID-19, science advisors say

“I would say this is all one big wave that we’ve controlled variously with up and down measures. But as of this past week, we’re still hovering at between 500 and 600 cases a day … But the trend is slowly rising,” she said.

On Wednesday, B.C. recorded 498 COVID-19 infections in the previous 24 hours. There were four deaths.

We don’t know the full extent to which variants are taking hold, but Colijn points out the fact that we are seeing more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant further complicates things.

“I would say, if things stay the same as they are now — and nothing changes based on the data we see now and based on what we know about B.1.1.7 — if I had to guess, I would say yes, we are likely headed into a third wave.”

She says when we look at “waves” for COVID-19, we need to keep in mind that this is a different situation compared to how other viruses have worked their way though the population.

A more “classic” wave, Colijn says, would be a situation where minimal measures are taken and the virus is allowed to run through the population and — hopefully — infect fewer people each “seasonal wave,” as population and demographics change.

“We didn’t let that happen. We crushed those waves. We stopped them in their tracks so that probably less than five per cent of the population has had COVID. So, when we talk about ‘waves,’ all we really mean is ‘We had a sustained decline for awhile, and now we’re re-opening and it’s going to go back up,'” she explained.

Related article: AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine now recommended for all adults

But Colijn says ultimately, we have a role to play and a it’s possible we won’t see a third wave at all.

“We may wait until we are back up to what was our past kind of limit, at about 1,000 cases a day before we start talking about an official third wave. Maybe we will see continued declines. It’s possible that people see the case numbers and they adapt. B.C. has been pretty good; When we have had rises, they’ve been relatively slow. So, we don’t really know,” she said.

She is also hopeful the plan to give vaccines to high-contact frontline workers earlier than initially scheduled will make a difference in slowing spread.