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Incidental COVID-19 hospitalizations in B.C. are about 44% of total

1,035 people now in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19 – down from yesterday's record 1,048
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses media | Photo: B.C. Government

B.C. health officials have revealed data to add perspective on why the province's COVID-19 hospitalizations have been soaring – to 1,035, today, down slightly from the record 1,048 yesterday.

Key to the recent rise are what they call "incidental" infections, or ones that were discovered when hospital patients admitted for other reasons were tested for COVID-19. Often these cases are mild enough that the patient would not have required hospitalization if that person's only ailment had been COVID-19.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said health officials conducted chart reviews of 550 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, starting on December 1, and discovered that 344, or 44.3 per cent of them, were in hospital initially for a reason that was not their COVID-19 infection, and that these infections were mild. 

Incidental infections can turn out to be as serious as any other COVID-19 infections, but the data did not capture any such cases.

Of the 550 charts they analyzed, 218, or 39.6 per cent of them, were patients who were admitted to hospital for COVID-19, or respiratory problems, but did not require support in an intensive care unit (ICU). The remaining 88 patients, or 16 per cent of those whose charts were analyzed, entered hospital for COVID-19 and needed ICU support.

The breakdown of the analyzed charts backs up what was long suspected. 

B.C. publicly announced that it was changing the way that it was counting COVID-19 patients in hospitals, starting January 14. Newly added to the counts would be people who contracted COVID-19 in hospitals, as well as those no longer deemed infectious and those who normally reside outside the province.

The province had a record 534 COVID-19 patients in hospitals on January 13, and that number jumped to a new record of 646 the following day, under the new counting system. 

The number has kept rising, to 1,035 today, including 139 in ICUs.

Health Minister Adrian Dix today said 9,358 of B.C.'s 11,582 acute-care hospital beds (80.8 per cent) are full, while 478 of 728 ICU beds are full (65.6 per cent). Hospitals were 103.5% full pre-pandemic, Dix has often said. Part of the reason hospitals are emptier now is that thousands of surgeries have been postponed.

Between Jan. 23 and Jan. 29, for example, B.C. health authorities postponed 870 non-urgent scheduled surgeries, Dix said today.

Nine more people died overnight from the virus, raising B.C.'s pandemic death toll to 2,625.

The daily case counts have lost value as an indicator of the seriousness of the pandemic in the province because vaccinated people with mild symptoms have been told to not get tested, and to simply self-isolate. 

Regardless, health officials detected 1,236 new infections in the past day, raising the number of known active cases by 848, to 28,302.

Henry's briefing today also included data that assessed the rise in the Omicron strain.

This is significant because the demographics of those who have been contracting Omicron are different than those who have become infected with the Delta variant, Henry said. Younger people, and vaccinated people, for example, have been infected with Omicron much more than with Delta. 

Henry suggested, however, that there could be some confounding variables for this finding. Omicron's rise, for example, has come alongside the rise of incidental infections. Essentially, mild infections were detected in hospitals because of incidental testing that would not have otherwise been done. 

Some differences between Delta patients and Omicron patients were substantial. Unvaccinated people, for example, represented 67.7 per cent of the 511 Delta hospitalizations, and only 23.4 per cent of the 1194 Omicron hospitalizations between November 28 and January 28, according to Henry's data.

While Henry said Omicron disproportionately affected younger people, she stressed that both Delta and Omicron had the most dire effects on those aged older than 80 years: "This is something we've seen all along – whether they're vaccinated or not."

She added that people older than 80 years are much more likely to have separate, underlying illnesses that worsen COVID-19.

It is therefore good news that the number of known outbreaks at health-care facilities and seniors' homes fell by three overnight, to 55. 

Two new such outbreaks are at Tsawaayuus Rainbow Gardens in Port Alberni, and Berwick on the Lake in Nanaimo. 

Provincial data show 4,481,509 B.C. residents have had at least one dose of vaccine, while 4,187,417 are considered fully vaccinated with two doses. There were 26,692 people given booster, or third, doses of vaccine in the past day, for a total of 2,152,427.

The B.C. government last year estimated that the province's total population is 5,147,712. Hence, Glacier Media's calculation is that almost 87 per cent of B.C.'s total population has had at least one dose of vaccine, and 81.3 per cent of the province's total population has had two doses.  Nearly 41.8 per cent have had their booster doses. •