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People sit in a parking lot after receiving their vaccination for COVID-19 at a truck stop along highway 91 North in Delta, B.C., on June 16, 2021.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

New cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia have more than doubled since the province relaxed most of its health measures, a surge driven by an alarming rise in infections among unvaccinated people in the Interior.

During the past weekend, the Interior Health Authority added 155 new cases. The authority, which encompasses Kelowna and Kamloops, has a population of nearly 800,000 and is the fourth largest of the five regional authorities. By comparison, the health authorities that include Vancouver and Surrey – areas with more than a million people each – recorded 48 and 41 new cases, respectively, over the past three days.

It’s a trend that has had health officials concerned for more than a week. The vast majority of the new cases in the Interior are among those who are unvaccinated.

“Since British Columbia entered Step 3 of the reopening on July 1, approximately 70 per cent of the cases in Interior Health were in people who were not vaccinated, 26 per cent of cases were in people who were partially immunized, and 4 per cent of the cases were in people who had received two doses,” reads the statement sent by Interior Health last Friday.

It added that most of these cases are in adults between 20 and 39 years old.

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Caroline Colijn, an infectious disease modeller at Simon Fraser University, said more transmission was inevitable as society reopened this summer across the province, but the rise in cases this month is a bit sharper than she expected. The overall number of cases is still low and it’s unclear how many of the cases are related to larger spreading events, she said, but pockets of unvaccinated people pose a big risk.

“People who are not vaccinated are at more risk – a lot more,” said Dr. Colijn, the Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Evolution, Infection and Public Health. “There are enough unvaccinated people and transmission rates are high enough, with Delta especially … that we could see a larger wave that does end up challenging health care.”

She added that even if 80 per cent of eligible adults are fully vaccinated, the latest science shows upwards of a tenth of these people may still be able to transmit the virus to others and act as a bridge to groups of unvaccinated people.

Last Friday, the province reported 112 new cases, the highest one-day total since mid-June. According to data released by BC Centre for Disease Control, the seven-day rolling average for cases in B.C. on July 4 was 36. A week later it was 46. A week after that it was 49 but then it went to 87 as of July 25.

Interior Health currently has the largest share of active cases in the province, accounting for 49 per cent of active cases, compared with 27 per cent in Fraser Health and 17 per cent in Vancouver Coastal.

Mayor Brian Taylor says his small town of Grand Forks, a 10-minute drive from B.C.’s border with eastern Washington State, was recently identified as a COVID-19 hotspot after upward of 20 young adults got the virus from wedding festivities in early July.

“A lot of it stems from a single social event,” Mr. Taylor told The Globe and Mail on Monday.

He said he doesn’t know what percentage of the roughly 9,000 people living in the wider Grand Forks region covered by the health authority are people who have not or will not get jabbed. However, he said his town of 4,000 people – a heavy mix of Vietnam War draft dodgers and the religious sect of Canadian Doukhobors whose ancestors were expelled from Imperial Russia – has largely embraced vaccination despite its countercultural history.

“Some people are continuing to be concerned but are getting vaccinated because it’s the right thing to do and they’re beginning to understand that,” said Mr. Taylor, who goes out in public wearing a pin stating he is “proudly vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Interior Health is also located in the area that’s been battling with some of the most serious wildfires in B.C. Last week, the health authority had to cancel COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Oliver and Osoyoos for two days because of the Nk’Mip Creek wildfire. But Interior Health said its immunization campaign has not wavered even with the challenges the region is facing because of the various wildfires.

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