VANCOUVER -- Three more residents of long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19 in British Columbia, bringing the total number of deaths from the coronavirus in the province to 81, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Saturday.

Henry also announced 29 new cases of the virus confirmed through testing, bringing B.C.'s overall total to 1,647.

Of those, 115 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 54 are in critical care.

The update comes after Henry released new modelling on Friday that showed virus rates are slowing, thanks to residents following physical distancing guidelines, Henry said.

Physical distancing -- where residents stay home as much as possible and stay two metres away from others who are not members of their own household -- has had dire economic impacts, but it has been effective in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus that has overwhelmed health systems in other countries.

Officials said Friday that some restrictions could begin to be lifted as early as mid-May if people continue dutifully following physical distancing rules and flattening B.C.'s epidemic curve.

That said, Henry elaborated Saturday on the possibility of loosening those rules. She said large-scale events such as the annual fair at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver and annual Pride parades almost certainly will not happen this year.

"Realistically, we will not be having those big events where people gather together this summer," Henry said. "We do not have enough herd immunity or community immunity to allow that type of event to happen."

Smaller events, such as weddings, may still be possible over the summer, Henry said, but she cautioned that such gatherings can come with greater risk of virus transmission.

"Those family celebrations when we spend time together - weddings and parties - where we share food, where we hug and we care for each other in a very close way, unfortunately, right now, those are the things that are risky," she said. "So, I think we need to start thinking about planning small events, looking at how we can bring people together virtually."

The provincial health officer stressed that the progress B.C. has made in dealing with the pandemic is because of the efforts people have made to avoid spreading the virus. As she did Friday, she likened the current situation to a hurricane, saying the province is still "in the eye of the storm."

"The easing of restrictions, when they come, will be gradual and will be slow and thoughtful," Henry said. "We took very quick action to get us into this, but we don't want all of the sacrifices that we have been doing across the province to be for naught. We need to make sure that when we open things up we do it in a measured, thoughtful way that protects all of us while opening up our economy, while opening up our health system.

Though the three additional deaths announced Saturday all occurred at long-term care and assisted-living facilities, Henry said there have been no new outbreaks recorded in such institutions.

There are 20 long-term care and assisted living facilities with active outbreaks in B.C. There are also outbreaks at an acute care facility at Ridge Meadows Hospital, two correctional facilities - including the Mission Institution federal prison - and an agricultural facility in the Okanagan.

The number of positive tests for COVID-19 recorded at the Mission prison is now 70, Henry said, adding that 60 of those cases are among inmates.

At long-term care facilities, there are 288 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Outbreaks at those types of facilities have been responsible for the majority of B.C.'s deaths from the virus.

On Saturday, Henry called long-term care home outbreaks in British Columbia a "tragedy."

"The storm is still raging," the provincial health officer said. "Tragically, we see that in the fact that people are still dying from this virus here in B.C."

Of the 1,647 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in B.C., most have been in the Lower Mainland. There have been 686 confirmed cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 680 in the Fraser Health region - the two health authorities that have responsibility for all of Metro Vancouver and surrounding areas.

Elsewhere in B.C., there are 150 cases in the Interior Health region, 97 in the Island Health region and 34 in Northern Health.

Some 987 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in B.C. are now considered fully recovered, meaning there are 579 active cases in the province, as of Saturday. 

American Sign Language translations of today's provincial news conferences will be available on the government's YouTube page.