British Columbia is bracing for COVID-19 hospitalizations to continue to climb upwards but provincial data shows the peak of new admissions should come next week.
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presented the latest COVID-19 data on Friday showing there are about 45 to 50 new COVID-19 admissions per day in hospitals across the province. The province is expected to continue to see record hospitalizations until at least the middle of next week.
“What we are seeing is there is a lag time between peak infections and peak admissions into hospital,” Henry said.
“We expect the peak will be some time next week. Our modelling shows between Jan. 15 and 22 we expect the peak of admission in hospital.”
The peak in hospitalizations is coupled with a dramatic rise in illness among health-care workers. Earlier this week the province presented data showing health-care workers missed more than 27,000 shifts across the province due to illness over a one-week period.
Henry said the Omicron variant is leading to hospital visits being shorter and should lead to the pressure on the system easing quicker than during Delta-driven waves.
“We think we hit the peak of community transmission in British Columbia probably this past weekend,” Henry said. “That’s important, there’s a number of different indicators that allow us to say that with some certainty.
“But we’re still at the point where our hospitalization rate is going up, so new hospitalizations are still a concern, and we need to understand who is it that’s being hospitalized and what can we do to try and affect that trajectory in the next couple of weeks.”
B.C. hit a new record for hospitalizations on Thursday with more than 500 people in hospital.
Between Monday and Wednesday, 260 people were admitted, which is a net increase of 104 people because so many people were able to be discharged from the hospital.
It’s also unclear how many patients tested positive for COVID-19 after being admitted for treatment for something else.
Just last week, the Independent B.C. COVID Modelling Group, made up of experts from the province’s universities and the private sector, projected between two and 10,000 people could be in hospital, during the peak, which would come later this month.
However, the province announced Friday it will be changing the way daily hospitalization numbers are reported, which will mean numbers look higher starting on Friday. The change will be including everyone in the hospital with a COVID positive case ranging from people coming into the hospital with COVID or testing positive for COVID at any point during the hospital stay.
The change is expected to mean the hospitalization number is listed around 600, rather than 534 individuals hospitalized announced on Thursday.
Hospitalization data continues to indicate those over the age of 70 are more likely to go to the hospital with COVID than any other age demographic. If you are unvaccinated in any age demographic there is a 12 times higher likelihood you will end up in the hospital, 27 times more likely to end up in ICU and 40 times higher likelihood of death.
“What is concerning though, what we need to pay attention to, is the uptick in older people right now… we’re also seeing a bit of an uptick in younger people,” Henry said.
In younger people, Omicron behaves more like any other upper-respiratory virus, she said, triggering other ailments like asthma, airway disease and bronchiolitis.
Henry said that is what is driving young people to go to the hospital.
“The (hospitalization) numbers are greatest in the 60 to 79 year age group, but the rate of being admitted to the hospital is highest in people over aged 80. We’re also seeing a bit of an uptick in 0 to 19, our pediatric age group,” Henry added.
Omicron, and the rapid spread through both vaccinated and unvaccinated, has actually increased the risk of going to the hospital across all demographics.
“If you are a young person in your 30s and 40s, not being vaccinated puts your risk much higher at being hospitalized,” Henry added.
“If you are unvaccinated your risk has gone up. Omicron evades that transmission. People are more likely to get infected. That protection from infection for the unvaccinated is no longer there. The risk profile for those unvaccinated has really changed for this strain. If you are unvaccinated your risk of ending up in the ICU is dramatically higher and that has changed from even a few months ago.”
The modelling shows 70 per cent of people in critical care in the past month are unvaccinated, mostly with Omicron but with a combination with the Delta variant. Two-thirds of people who have died in the past month in B.C. have not been vaccinated, Henry said.
The province is forecasting the current health restrictions in place reduced transmission by about 20 per cent. There has been no decision made yet on when restrictions on gyms, bars and private events will be lifted.
But with the hope hospitalization pressure could ease by late this month into early February, there is planning underway to lift some of those orders.
“We have gone through almost every pandemic scenario. We are going to have a level of immunity that is much higher than we did after Delta. But it is going to be a really tough couple of weeks on our health-care system. But I do think once we get through this the oscillations are going to be smaller,” Henry said.
On Thursday, officials recorded five new outbreaks in care facilities, leaving the province with 53 outbreaks in health-care settings — nine of which were in hospitals.
Officials reported another 2,554 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, with at least 36,049 active cases province-wide.
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