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New counting method prompts B.C. COVID-19 deaths to rise

B.C. hospitals have 364 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19
A walks past some grafitti while wearing a mask to protect himself from getting COVID-19 | Rob Kruyt

B.C.'s weekly COVID-19 data report shows a jump in COVID-19 deaths – 23 in the week up until April 9.

There were 11 deaths recorded in the week that ended April 2, but that number is not comparable to the new death count because the province has changed the way that it counts COVID-19 deaths. 

The province on April 2 started to define a COVID-19 death as being an individual who has died from any cause within 30 days of a first COVID-19 positive lab result. Before April 2, health officials performed manual work to determine that each announced COVID-19 death was indeed a death due to the disease. 

The plan going forward is for the government's Vital Statistics Agency (VSA) to within months do some checking to determine actual causes of death. People at the VSA would then pass on that information so health officials can remove from their COVID-19 death count the deaths that were clearly not because of the disease.

The way the system is set up now, someone could test positive for COVID-19, die in a car accident on the way home and be counted as a COVID-19 fatality. 

Given the change, it may be a surprise that the weekly death count is as low as 23. Using the old counting method, there were 131 recorded COVID-19 deaths in the month of March, for a seven-day average of 29.58.

There are 364 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in B.C. hospitals as of today. That includes incidental cases where someone entered hospital for a different reason and then tested positive for COVID-19 while in the hospital. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry in early April estimated that about half of the COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals were incidental cases. 

Of those patients, 36 are sick enough to need care in intensive care units (ICUs.) Those patients are less likely to be incidental cases, Henry said. 

The province is reporting 1,770 new COVID-19 infections in the week up until April 9. With 29,032 tests completed, the province's weekly positive-test rate was 6.1%.

That data for new infections, however, has been widely disregarded since December, when Henry started telling people who were vaccinated and have mild symptoms to not get tested and to simply self-isolate. This was to increase testing capacity for those with more serious symptoms or those who are more vulnerable. 

In order to be prescribed Paxlovid, which can reduce symptoms and deter some hospitalizations, people need to be tested by health officials. 

In total, B.C. health officials know of 359,002 infections since the first one was detected in January 2020.