Socializing and workplace exposures cause under-40 COVID-19 cases to surge

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Adults under 40 years-old account for most of the new COVID-19 cases and many are related to private parties and workplace exposures that occurred over the last month, the province’s top health officer said last week.

“In all of these cases, the common factors are really the same,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry from Victoria. “It’s about the things that we’re doing when we’re in close contact with people.”

Transmission typically occurs when people are talking, joking around, sharing drinks, sharing food, and being in crowds, said Henry. 

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“So, larger combinations of people where we’re having those close interactions with many people over a period of time, often indoors,” she said. “The indoor settings we know are areas that are more at risk for us to be transmitting this virus to others.”

As of Aug. 10, a total of 4,065 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Of those, 445 were active cases, including nine in hospital and three in critical care or ICU.

In July, previous community outbreaks occurred around Kelowna and in Haida Gwaii, but now about 90 per cent of the province’s active cases involve people in Vancouver, and the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health authorities.  

“The past month has been a more difficult month for us in terms of cases,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix last week. July saw increases over June in positive COVID-19 cases with new cases rising to an average of 36 or 37 a day in early August, and about 44 a day by Aug.10.

Many of the most recent new cases involve people at private parties in overlapping social circles who had passed the virus onto their friends and family, said Henry.

A party involving about 45-plus people in Vancouver Coastal resulted in public health tracing about 400 related contacts. 

“That’s our warning right now,” said Henry on Aug. 6. “That’s where we’re seeing the virus get a chance to transmit to potentially large numbers of people.” 

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As of Aug. 6, about 1,500 people were in quarantine across the province. “A good proportion of them are related to those types of social settings,” Henry said at that time. By Aug. 10, that number had risen to 1,765 close contacts.

Dix suggested people reconsider party invitations.

“If you’re being invited to a private party, and you don’t know who’s there… and you don’t know the numbers,” said Dix, “I strongly urge you not to attend.”

For people who wish to host private parties, he said, “This is the time to keep numbers small.”

The 20 to 29 year-olds and 30 to 39 year-olds are now leading other age groupings for the highest number of new positive COVID-19 cases. 

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While some is the result of partying, it’s also a reflection of the demographic of employees working in the retail, restaurant and fruit packing industries, said Henry.  

“We need to immediately limit our time with others if we were at one of the events where that exposure happened,” Henry said. Exposure events are listed on BCCDC.CA and all health authority websites.

Rather than being alarmed at the number of exposure events, Henry says the information should be reassuring.

“When public health teams or businesses issue alerts, it shows us that our monitoring and our public health response is working,” she said, “because we have identified the source of transmission and know who may be exposed.”

So far, public health officials have been able to trace almost all new cases back to their exposure, said Henry.

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“For the most part, we are able to find everybody in a very short period of time,” Henry said.

Most concerning are cases that appear out of nowhere that aren’t linked or connected, she said. “And so far, those have been very, very low.”

But Henry cautioned British Columbians to keep up public health protocols wherever they go. 

“And if public health tells you that your close contact and you need to stay home, then that’s an order. You must do that,” she said. “That’s what will keep all of us safe.” 

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