B.C. COVID-19 data shows lowest hospitalizations in months

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The number of patients in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19 has reached its lowest level in nearly 11 months, according to data released Thursday by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

There were 268 test-positive patients hospitalized in the province as of Thursday, the lowest number B.C. has seen on a Thursday since March 24, 2022, when there were 255 people in hospital with the coronavirus.

It’s also the lowest weekly total the BCCDC has reported since it switched to weekly updates on COVID-19 data in early April of 2022.

A trendline of the number of patients in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursdays since the province switched to a “hospital census” model in January 2022 shows the highest, lowest and current numbers. (CTV)

Since January 2022, the province has been including “incidental” hospitalizations in its COVID-19 data. That means the numbers in the graph show both patients who were seriously ill with COVID-19 and required medical care and patients who were admitted to the hospital for other reasons and tested positive for the disease once they got there.

Shortly after the switch to this “hospital census” model, the province hit its highest-ever Thursday total for hospitalizations, reaching 985 on Feb. 3, 2022. The 255 reported on March 24 was the lowest-ever total.

According to health officials, between 40 and 50 per cent of COVID-19 patients reported each week are in hospital because of the disease, while the rest tested positive incidentally after being hospitalized for other reasons.

HOSPITALS STILL STRUGGLING

The decline in COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals comes despite continued high levels of hospital use across the province, overall.

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have framed the challenges facing the health-care system as difficult, but not unexpected, saying hospitalizations always rise in January.

Still, the province reopened emergency operations centres at 20 hospitals earlier this month, and the facilities continue to operate above their typical capacity, excluding surge beds. 

As of last Friday, there were 10,106 people hospitalized for all causes across the province. Including 2,500 surge beds, there are 11,680 total hospital beds in B.C. That means 87 per cent of all beds in the province were full at the end of last week, with hospitals operating at 110 per cent of their baseline capacity. 

The strain of a difficult respiratory illness season coupled with the lingering effects of the pandemic led many health-care workers to contact CTV News to express frustration with provincial leadership, and to claim they fear retribution from their employers if they speak about their concerns publicly. 

NO ‘KRAKEN’ SURGE YET

While the XBB.1.5 subvariant of the Omicron lineage of SARS-CoV-2 has caused surges in other parts of the world, the available data in B.C. has not yet shown a similar pattern.

Alongside the decline in the hospital census, this week’s BCCDC data shows a lower number of cases detected through lab testing and declines in coronavirus concentrations in wastewater at some Lower Mainland plants.

Further, the plants where concentrations are still increasing have all seen the rate of increase slow down in recent weeks. 

Last week, Henry made note of this trend as she and Dix provided an update on respiratory illness season.

The provincial health officer said B.C.’s whole-genome sequencing efforts had detected a total of 24 instances of the XBB.1.5 subvariant, dubbed the “Kraken” variant by some.

While there are certainly more than 24 cases of the variant in the province, it accounted for less than five per cent of the genomes sequenced in B.C. as of last week, according to Henry, who also sought to allay any fears people may have about XBB.1.5.

“Any new variant that has an advantage spreads more easily,” she said. “That’s what viruses do. They change to try and reproduce themselves more quickly. And if it spreads more easily, it often will replace the ones that went before it. So each new one that spreads, by definition, is the most infectious one to date.”

“We must remember that these new strains may make us more vulnerable to infection, but they don’t render us defenceless,” Henry added, noting that B.C. has a high level of protection from vaccination and infection with other strains of Omicron.

Precautions like staying home when sick, wearing a mask in crowded spaces and places with poor ventilation, and – most importantly – keeping up with vaccinations, will help tame the Kraken variant, too, Henry said.

VACCINATION DATA

The provincial health officer described immunization with the Omicron-targeting bivalent vaccines as the most important protective measure people can take.

According to the BCCDC, 30,731 new COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in the province during the week that ended Jan. 14.

The largest share of those are classified as either fourth (12,799) or fifth (9,276) doses on the BCCDC’s COVID-19 dashboard, meaning they were administered to people who had already had at least one booster shot before the bivalent vaccines became available. 

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