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B.C. hospitals face crisis, must toughen COVID restrictions: experts

BC now has the highest per-capita infection rate in Canada and is on track to see 90 per cent of ICU beds filled with COVID-19 patients, an expert group reports.
Image Credit: Joshua Berson
August 19, 2021 - 8:00 PM

Hospitals across B.C. could soon be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients unless tougher public health measures are taken to quell the pandemic’s fourth wave, an independent modelling group warned this week.

B.C. currently has the highest per-capita infection rate in Canada and is on track to see 90 per cent of ICU beds filled with COVID-19 patients, the BC COVID-19  Modelling Group said in a report.

“It is urgent that action be taken to reduce transmission and expand vaccination coverage in order to avoid overwhelming B.C.’s medical system,” says the report from experts in infectious diseases and modelling from around B.C.

Overwhelmed hospitals not only impact  patients sick with COVID-19 but could mean those in need of emergency care for heart attacks, car accidents and other life-threatening conditions can’t be cared for properly or at all.

The new models project B.C. could see more than 1,000 new cases a day by the end of the month, more than double the current rate. Delta variant cases — 95 per cent of current infections — are doubling every nine days, the report said.

B.C. public health officials have maintained that rising case rates are not likely to lead to increased hospitalizations because vaccines reduce the severity of  COVID-19.

But 17.3 per cent of eligible people remain unvaccinated. They make up more than three-quarters of cases in the province and the overwhelming majority of those hospitalized, according  to B.C.’s most recent data last month.

The modelling group’s report says more measures to slow transmission, like mandatory masks, while working towards vaccinating 90 per cent of the population could avert a major  health-care crisis.

Even with increased vaccinations and more  stringent but temporary public health measures, hospitalizations could peak at close to 1,000, almost double the previous record in April when scheduled surgeries at a number of hospitals were cancelled.

“Relaxation of measures can take place once vaccine immunity is sufficient to prevent growth of Delta infections,” reads the report.

The BC Greens today called on the province and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to reinstate the indoor  mask mandate and require government workers, teachers and all  health-care workers to be vaccinated.

Proof of vaccination should also be considered for admission to sports events, concerts, bars and dining, the party said.

“British Columbians want this pandemic to be over and some sense of normalcy to return to life, but we can’t get there without government leadership,” said leader and Cowichan Valley  MLA Sonia Furstenau.

The last two weeks have seen B.C.’s rolling  average of new cases double to 571 as first-dose vaccination rates stall at around 82.7 per cent of those eligible.

The case count is growing in all health authorities, not just the Interior where cases have been concentrated for the last number of weeks. New restrictions introduced in the Central Okanagan in early August are slowly reducing the outbreak.

And the report notes many young people in their 20s and 30s, who were not eligible for second doses when the province entered its current reopening stage in July, are bearing the brunt of the fourth wave.

Health areas with 70-per-cent vaccine coverage are seeing five times as many cases as those with 90-per-cent vaccine coverage, the modelling report found.

But vaccination among those currently eligible is not enough to halt the increase in cases, particularly with the more transmissible Delta variant now spreading quickly and mostly among the unvaccinated, the report says.

Children under 10, who will not be eligible for immunization until this fall at the earliest, make up about 36 per cent of unvaccinated people in B.C.

“This fourth wave is disproportionately affecting those who are unvaccinated, and we have to remember those who aren’t able to get vaccinated include children under 12,” said Adam  Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.

B.C. should report the vaccination status of those infected and hospitalized, the Greens said, as well as take  further steps in schools to keep kids and teachers safe with masks and ventilation.

“We have a collective responsibility to protect and care for each other, and this government needs to lead the way,” said Furstenau. 

— This story was originally published by The Tyee.

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