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Weekly COVID-19 deaths in B.C. lowest since April

Today's count may be skewed by counting glitches over the holidays
An ambulance nears Richmond Hospital | Photo: Chung Chow

The B.C. government said today that 13 people died while infected with COVID-19 in the week up to Dec. 31 – the lowest weekly count since it changed its method of counting deaths in April 2022. 

The new count is down from 22 deaths in the week ended Dec. 17 but it may be skewed by the government's inability to get all needed data during the holidays.

Government data for counting deaths has been widely discredited because the count includes those who had tested positive for COVID-19 within 30 days of their deaths. This means that the count could include people who died in car accidents. The province also starts its countdown for that 30-day window when a person first tests positive for COVID-19, and it does not reset that clock for subsequent detected infections, further muddying which deaths were genuinely caused by COVID-19.

In total so far in the pandemic, the province has counted 4,896 COVID-19-related deaths. This is 90 people higher than the count was in the week up to Dec. 17. 

The number of people with serious enough COVID-19 infections to be in B.C. intensive care units (ICUs) has declined to 25, according to B.C. government data released this afternoon. 

This is down from 35 COVID-19 patients in B.C. ICUs on December 22, when the government last updated its COVID-19 dashboard, and it is the fewest such patients since Oct. 27, according to government statistics. Today's count may be inaccurate because of reporting glitches over the holidays. 

B.C.'s count for COVID-19 ICU patients includes those who are in hospital for non-COVID-19 reasons, and who just happened to test positive for COVID-19.

There are 356 people in B.C. hospitals overall who have tested positive for COVID-19, including incidental cases where they are in hospital for another reason. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said last year that about half of the people counted as being COVID-19 hospital patients in B.C. were incidental cases. She added that the percentage of incidental cases is usually a lot lower for those in ICUs. 

The peak for COVID-19 hospitalizations in B.C. was on Jan. 31, 2022, when 1,048 such people were taking up hospital beds. The province changed its method of counting hospitalizations on Jan. 14, 2022, so only data after that date is comparable. The province has 11,582 total hospital beds, including what it calls surge beds, which can strain the system because they require additional resources.

Government testing for COVID-19 is sporadic and does not include most cases because Henry in late 2021 told vaccinated people who have mild COVID-19 symptoms to simply self-isolate and not get tested. Her intent was to free up staff time at testing centres, which then endured hours-long line-ups.

Nonetheless, government testing centres found 693 new infections in the week up to Dec. 31. That is up from 609 people in the most recent week for which the government's COVID-19 dashboard was updated, which ended Dec. 17. •