VANCOUVER — British Columbia's health minister says hospitals haven't yet seen the bump of COVID-19 infections that have been recorded after previous holidays during the pandemic, but the health system is still feeling the strain of respiratory illnesses.
Adrian Dix says 223 people were in hospital with influenza or respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, as of Wednesday, while 356 people are hospitalized with COVID-19.
He says the combination of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses in the height of winter will make for some "very challenging weeks for our health-care system."
Dix says more people got together in person over this holiday season compared with the last two years, when public health restrictions were in place, but far more people now have initial and booster shots of COVID-19 vaccine.
He says 12 cases of a new subvariant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 that's been spreading in the United States had been confirmed in B.C. as of Wednesday, but the actual number of cases circulating among the population would be higher.
The subvariant appears to be more contagious than others, he says, meaning it can spread more quickly, but it may not lead to more severe individual outcomes.
"The Delta variant put an enormous number of people in critical care in our province," Dix told a news conference on Thursday, referring to the strain that was spreading quickly in the summer of 2021. "Other variants had less of an impact per individual, such as Omicron, but were more broadly felt."
The newest variant appears similar to the Omicron strain in that it "may not be more severe for individuals, although severe for some ... but also more contagious," he says.
Dix encouraged those who haven't received their booster doses of COVID-19 to get the shot, and says people should stay home if they are sick.
The minister says he wears a face covering in indoor public places, such as the grocery store, and he suggested everyone consider doing the same.
The latest data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control shows new hospital admissions were "slowly decreasing" over the month of December, while new admissions to critical care remained stable.
The centre says the number of deaths recorded within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 test was also stable last month, with 13 fatalities recorded in the last week of 2022.
Of the 356 people currently in hospital, 25 are in critical care.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2023.
The Canadian Press