VICTORIA -- COVID-19 cases across B.C. have reached a tipping point where cases could rise to unmanageable levels or decline, according to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

But COVID-19 infections appear to be rising on Vancouver Island, particularly in the Central Island region.

On Jan. 26, the Island Health region reported 195 active cases of COVID-19. Of those cases, 157 were active in the Central Island, 22 were active in the South Island and 16 were located in the North Island.

However, Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick says island residents can’t assume the rise in cases is exclusively occurring in the Mid-Island.

"We can’t somehow think, 'Oh it’s just the Central Island. If we just closed off the Malahat it’ll be fine.'" Stanwick told reporters Wednesday.

The island’s top doctor says that the virus seizes every opportunity to spread and that a cluster may be developing in the South Island, based on new cases discovered Tuesday.

He adds that the Island Health region has now surpassed 1,500 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Of those cases, roughly 500 were added in the first month of 2021.

"So in three and a half weeks we’ve added 50 per cent," said Stanwick.

The island’s top doctor says there’s no single reason why cases have spiked on Vancouver Island, but believes that the holiday season may have been a large contributing factor.

"I think we were anticipating a spike after the holiday season," he said.

Stanwick believes that most new COVID-19 cases are coming from within the community – whether that be social encounters, visiting relatives or spreading it to housemates. These encounters may have been more frequent during the holidays, says Stanwick.

Some COVID-19 cases are coming from off the island, by travel or by people who work elsewhere and return to the island, but that factor currently appears to be smaller, says Stanwick.

One silver lining that comes from the rise in new cases is that Island Health is in a better position to release information on approximate COVID-19 case locations. Previously, the health authority was reluctant to release location data because there were concerns that individuals would be identified because there were so few cases on the Island.

Now that there are more cases, Stanwick says that Island Health will begin releasing more granular COVID-19 location data while still being able to maintain privacy.

Immunization efforts

National COVID-19 vaccine shipment delays are affecting Vancouver Island. The region’s top doctor says "difficult decisions" have had to be made since significantly fewer vaccine doses are expected to arrive next month.

However, the health authority has completed its goal of immunizing everyone in long-term care who wanted a vaccine, which was completed earlier this week.

While the health authority is still planning its mass vaccination strategies for when more vaccine arrives, Stanwick urges all island residents to continue following provincial health orders because they are proven ways to limit the spread of the virus.

He points to one resident who returned to Vancouver Island who had tested positive for the COVID-19 U.K. variant, the first British Columbian to do so. Two close contacts of the individual also contracted COVID-19, but since all three isolated for 14 days, the variant was never spread to others.

"We have the tools on hand if people just practiced them to get this virus under control," he said.

He adds that most people have "embraced" provincial health orders, despite feeling fatigued form COVID-19. If the majority of people hadn’t followed the restrictions, the situation would be much worse on the island, he says.

"Believe it or not we are still in an enviable position," he said, acknowledging that island residents are to thank for keeping COVID-19 cases low relative to other jurisdictions throughout the entire pandemic.