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COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in 2020: year-end summary

In 2020: 4.22% of BC's COVID cases were in Island Health.

Sunday January 3, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC

by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., editor | Island Social Trends

Year One’ of the COVID-19 pandemic wrapped up on December 31, 2020 with a year-end count of 928 cases on Vancouver Island (920 test-positive and eight epi-linked). That’s 4.22% of all cases in British Columbia in 2020.

The highest case counts of COVID-19 all year long have been in the Vancouver lower mainland areas within the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health authorities.

BC CDC, COVID, BC, regions, 2020
Regional distribution of COVID-19 cases in BC at December 31, 2020 [BC CDC]

Comparatively, cases and transmission have been significantly lower on Vancouver Island in the Island Health region. For most of the year there has been discussion on this point, with factors that include:

  • Vancouver Island’s lower population density;
  • an already-existing lifestyle that includes frequently getting outdoors;
  • perhaps more opportunity for home-based work environments that have allowed for people to retreat from traditional workplaces; and
  • an overall cultural mesh with the type of public health messaging.

As well, the education community has made a diligent effort to apply public health orders quite effectively, seeing very little impact of COVID-19 in schools.


For the year 2020 there were, overall, 54 people in hospital in Island Health due to COVID-18 (that count was eight at December 31) — the hospitalization number for the island was 1.87% of the total 2,898 COVID hospitalizations in BC during 2020.

At December 31 there were 76 people in intensive care in BC, to assist with their fight against COVID-19. Of those, two were in Island Health.

Regional distribution on Vancouver Island:

COVID, Island Health, regions, Dec 31 2020
Distribution of COVID-19 cases in Island Health at December 31, 2020 [Island Health]

The 2020 profile of COVID-19 cases regionally on Vancouver Island shows the highest number of cases having occurred in the Central region (397), followed by the South region (324) and North (207). Currently the highest number of active COVID-19 cases is in the South (44), with 22 in the North and 16 in Central.

In the Greater Victoria area there was an outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital in November and a few exposures in schools (mostly at private schools, and at one public school in SD61).

Most of the cases, by date, were seen from late October through to year-end on Vancouver Island, with a peak in the last half of November.

COVID, case by date, Island Health, Dec 31 2020
COVID-19 cases by date within Island Health during 2020 (at Dec 31, 2020).

Age profile:

The spread of COVID-19 along age-distribution graphs showed over the year that the virus eventually spread through all age groups in BC. Early in the year the senior age groups showed the most cases. Then as the working-age population was back in the community (including an active period of summer socializing), the cases became highest among people in their 20s and 30s, up to the 50s.

By year-end 11,668 people in their 20s had tested positive for COVID-19 in BC, followed by 9,417 in their 30s, and 7,750 in their 40s. Children under the age of 10 had 2,135 test-positive cases, while youth ages 10 to 19 showed 4,700 of the cases.

age distribution, COVID, BC, Dec 31 2020
Distribution of COVID-19 cases by age in BC at Dec 31, 2020. [BC CDC]

By the fall months on Vancouver Island it was easily seen in the stats that the 40s age group never quite caught up with the number of cases among people in their 40s for the full BC count. That could be due to any number of reasons including perhaps people in their 40s being at their prime of health, or socializing less than people in their 20s and 30s, or not employed in as many frontline occupations, or perhaps less willingness to get tested and instead tough out their illness at home.

COVID, age distribution, Vancouver island, December 31 2020
Distribution of COVID-19 cases by age within the Island Health Authority, at December 31, 2020. [BC CDC]

By year-end 180 people in their 20s had tested positive for COVID-19 on Vancouver Island (19.4% of island cases), followed by 159 people in their 30s (17.1%), and 139 in their 50s (15.0%). In the 40s age group there were 117 cases (12.6% of island cases). Children under the age of 10 had 39 test-positive cases on Vancouver Island (4.2%), while youth ages 10 to 19 showed 80 of the cases (8.6%). Note, Dr Henry has articulated that more of the cases in the 10-19 age group are among 18 and 19-year-olds who are essentially more exposed in the mainstream adult community than in schools.

Deaths due to COVID:

The total number of deaths in BC in 2020 due to COVID-19 came to 901, with 11 of those in Island Health.

About 80% of those who succumbed to infection by the brand-new virus in 2020 were residents in long-term care, with families province-wide affected by this tragedy.

COVID emergence:

The COVID virus was first included in worldwide news coverage in December of 2019, the first news conference in BC was held in January 2020, and the pandemic was officially declared in BC on March 17, 2020. A State of Emergency has been renewed in BC since March 18, 2020 (said by government to continue — through repeated renewal — until the pandemic is over).

woman wearing face mask
Woman wearing face mask for air travel.

The first wave included pretty much a lockdown (not called that, or ordered as such, but effectively so). When social and business activity re-emerged mid-May people started re-learning ‘normal’. The phrase ‘new normal’ got a lot of play in discussion, but by fall was how we’ve all been living: wearing a face mask in any indoor public space, keeping an unnatural physical distance between ourselves and others, and doing many more things online or remotely. Some people re-learned the benefits of getting outside to simply enjoy fresh air.

Forced back indoors by cold, rainy and winter weather in November and December, case counts were steadily over 500 daily in BC. The peak for 2020 case counts was mid-November, said Dr Henry in her year-end modelling presentation on December 23. But the case counts are likely to go higher in January after the social gatherings of Christmas and New Year.

COVID news restarts in 2021:

Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix delivered their last joint COVID-19 report of the year on December 31, their 160th.

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue through most of 2021, or ‘Year Two’. That’s because the spread of the virus essentially continues unchecked (other than the public health measures that people are willing and able to follow) until herd/community immunity is achieved through vaccination (thought to be possible at 70% of the population being vaccinated).

herd immunity, community immunity, COVID-19
Explanation of how herd (community) immunity works. [Source: USA Today]

The next BC COVID report — the first of 2021 — is scheduled for Monday January 4. After two long-weekends (Christmas and New Year both fell on Fridays), businesses will gear up again and in-class schooling will be on again after winter break.

Minister Dix said he will give a detailed report on BC’s continued surgical renewal next week –perhaps on Tuesday January 4, or later in the week.

BC CDC, Vancouver Island, COVID, December 31 2020
COVID-19 dashboard for Island Health at December 31, 2020. [BC CDC]

Immunization profile:

Since the start of immunizations, 17,510 people have received a COVID-19 vaccine in BC (the mRNA Pfizer-BioNTech product). That’s up from 11,930 just two days ago.

Active vaccinations among health-care workers began in the week of December 14 in Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions.

Dr Richard Stanwick, Dr Bonnie Henry, first vaccination, Island Health
The first vaccinations to health-care workers in Island Health started in Greater Victoria December 22, 2020. [supplied]

In the week of December 21 the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began to be administered in Island Health, Interior Health and Northern Health.

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