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B.C. COVID-19 hospitalizations reach eight-month high

The 469 COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals is the highest count since May 5.
Adrian Dix at in-person presser
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix regularly speaks with media about COVID-19

B.C.'s number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients continues to rise, with 469 people now in those facilities with the disease – the most in more than eight months.

The province has seen its number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients rise in each of the last nine government data updates. 

Of those hospitalized, 97 are in intensive care units (ICUs) – the most since December 2.

"Right now, we have three people in ICU in this province, who are unvaccinated people in their 20s, and we have one person in their 30s in [ICU.]" Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told media at an afternoon press conference.

Health Minister Adrian Dix provided data to show that B.C. hospitals are not yet overwhelmed. Of B.C.'s total 11,582 acute-care hospital beds, 9,401, or nearly 81.2%, are filled. That is up by 30 patients in the past four days. B.C. has a total of 728 ICU beds, of which 464, or 63.7%, are filled. That is down by 13 patients in the past four days. 

Dix has said many times that pre-pandemic, B.C. hospitals were at 103.5% occupancy. Part of the reason why there is more room now in B.C. hospitals is that so-called "non-urgent" surgeries are being postponed. Dix promised that postponed surgeries will be performed, and trotted out data to show success with this in the past. 

"Of the 14,842 patients whose surgeries were postponed, from March to May 2020, 99.6% of patients have had their surgeries," Dix said.

He and Henry continue to fear that soaring COVID-19 case counts could produce enough people with serious illness to overwhelm the system. 

The percentage of hospitalized patients who are considered fully vaccinated keeps rising, and was 64.4% in the two weeks ended January 9. Henry stressed, however, that vaccinated people are "much, much less likely to be in hospital" than unvaccinated people. 

The latest data show 19.5% of all British Columbians are unvaccinated, while 5.4% have had only one dose of vaccine. That 25% of the population were responsible for 35.6% of hospitalizations in the two weeks ended January 9. Months ago, the proportion of not fully vaccinated people in B.C. hospitals was far more disproportionate.

Provincial data show 4,426,451 B.C. residents have had at least one dose of vaccine, while 93.7% of those, or 4,146,540, are considered fully vaccinated with two doses.

Most new doses of vaccine are third doses. Another 3,123 British Columbians received first doses of vaccine in the past day, while 1,517 received second doses. There were 42,536 third, or booster, doses provided in the past day, for a total of 1,238,916. Dix today reiterated his promise to have about 1,000 pharmacies able to dispense third doses of vaccine by the end of January. 

The B.C. government estimates that 88.8% of eligible British Columbians, older than five years, have had at least one vaccine shot, while 83.2% of that eligible population is fully vaccinated with two jabs.

The B.C. government last year estimated that the province's total population is 5,147,712. Hence, Glacier Media's calculation is that nearly 86% of B.C.'s total population has had at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 80.5% of the province's total population has had two doses. 

In recent days, Henry has downplayed the number of new cases as an important indicator of the state of the pandemic in B.C. in part because the province's system of getting tested has been overwhelmed, and Henry has advised vaccinated people with mild illnesses to simply isolate and not try to get tested. That strategy is intended to provide added capacity for provincial testing officials to focus on those vulnerable for more serious illness, Henry said.

The new testing system is likely why B.C.'s official number of new COVID-19 infections has not been at record levels, since December 30, when the pandemic record of 4,383 cases were detected.

Active infections have risen in each of the past 18 government data updates, and reached a record high of 36,087 today.

Three COVID-19 patients are known to have died in the past day. The deaths included one in Fraser Health, one in Interior Health and one in Northern Health. This raises the province's pandemic death toll to 2,449.

Older British Columbians have shown to be more vulnerable to serious infections, and deaths, so it is a worrying development that the number of health-care facilities, seniors' care homes and retirement communities are increasingly developing outbreaks.

B.C. has 45 active outbreaks at those facilities, including four discovered in the past day:
• Abbotsford Regional Hospital;
• Glenwood Seniors Community in Agassiz;
• Saanich Peninsula Hospital; and
• Oyster Harbour in Ladysmith.

One month ago, the most recent provincial data showed four active outbreaks at those facilities. •