VICTORIA -- Health officials recorded 72 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death from the disease in the Vancouver Island region over the weekend.

The new cases were among 1,462 cases found across B.C. since Friday, bringing the provincial total to 84,569 cases since the pandemic began.

Eleven people in B.C. died of COVID-19 over the weekend, bringing the province’s coronavirus death toll to 1,391. There have now been 28 COVID-19 deaths confirmed in Island Health.

The Vancouver Island region has recorded 2,587 cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

There are 267 active cases in the Island Health region Monday, including 14 people in hospital and one in critical care.

Island Health officials identified the locations of 231 active cases Monday, including 130 in the Central Island, 53 in the North Island and 48 in the South Island.

B.C. health officials have also recorded 144 new cases of COVID-19 variants of concern, bringing the number of variant cases in the province to 390 since the pandemic began. Among those cases, 87 are considered active.

Six variant cases have been discovered on Vancouver Island since the pandemic began.

Health officials have now administered 333,327 doses of COVID-19 in B.C., including 86,925 secondary doses.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed the overwhelming number of phone calls from B.C. residents looking to book vaccine appointments when the call centres opened Monday morning.

“While I’m grateful to see the enthusiasm that we have, we ask everyone who is outside the age group for this week to please be patient and wait your turn,” Henry said. “It may cause more delays for people trying to get appointments for themselves or for their loved ones.”

Easing COVID-19 restrictions

Despite the consistently high number of new daily infections in B.C., Henry said health officials are looking towards a “modified return” to easing COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and business operations in the weeks ahead.

“We’re not going to rush to get things open,” Henry said. “I like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again rather than flicking a switch because we know that we’re not yet in a place where we can go back to our pre-pandemic gatherings.”

Henry said the return of small outdoor gatherings and group activities will be at the forefront of the return normalcy, as will the return of religious services and limited travel within the province. 

With regard to springtime religious ceremonies, Henry said faith leaders have been meeting regularly with health officials to plan a safe return to in-person gatherings.

“The focus will be in the next few weeks to meet both the specific needs of different faiths around these celebrations and to ensure that public health measures and safety precautions remain in place,” she said.

When asked whether British Columbians could be back in church pews in time for Easter mass on April 4, Henry was affirmative.

“That is our goal,” she said, adding that in-person celebrations of Passover, Ramadan and Vaisakhi are also likely to get the green light.

“It may not be what Easter celebrations have been in the past,” she said. “But they will be celebrations and unless things go off the rails, we are planning for them to be in-person.” 

B.C.’s top doctor is also predicting a return to near-normal classroom environments for B.C. students come the fall.

“I can say with some confidence that school for K-12 will look much more normal by next September because the risks in our communities will be decreased by the immunization program,” Henry said. “Same for universities. I think we need to start planning that (students will be) back into campus and campus life.”

Henry stressed that masks may still be required at times, especially during flu and respiratory illness seasons.