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Coronavirus  

40% of last month's COVID deaths come from long-term care homes

40% of deaths in care homes

This month alone, 174 British Columbians have died after contracting COVID-19.

During Friday's press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry disclosed about 40 per cent of these deaths are connected to outbreaks within long-term care homes. During the rapid rise in cases driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant in the past month, outbreaks within B.C. healthcare facilities, including care homes, have skyrocketed.

As of Friday, there are 46 active long-term care home outbreaks in the province, 12 of which are in the Interior.

“About 40 per cent of the people who've died in this month, have been related to outbreaks in long term care,” Dr. Henry said Friday. “Most of the people who are dying outside of those outbreaks are older people with underlying illnesses. A high proportion of them are people who don't have the protection from vaccination.”

A very high percentage of long-term care residents in B.C. have been vaccinated, in addition to their booster dose, and Dr. Henry said they're generally seeing “very mild illness” among residents. But she noted the BC CDC counts anyone who dies within 30 days of testing positive for the virus as a COVID death.

“We've always recognized that COVID could play a role in those people's deaths,” she said.

She added that in the past week, two people in their 40s have died from COVID-19.

“The younger [deaths] tend to be people who are not yet vaccinated and don't have that protection, and many have other underlying causes, as we know,” she said.

But since the beginning of the pandemic, age has been the number one risk factor for getting seriously ill or dying from the virus. The median age of COVID deaths in B.C. is 82, and about 40 per cent of the province's deaths have been among people 70 and older.



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New COVID-19 outbreak declared at KGH, one day after previous outbreak declared over

Yet another outbreak at KGH

Just one day after a COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital was declared over, a new outbreak has been declared there Friday.

Thursday, Interior Health declared the outbreak at the hospital's Unit 3W over, after eight staff and eight patients contracted the virus there, resulting in one death. But today, a new COVID-19 outbreak has been declared in the hospital's rehab unit.

Castanet has reached out to Interior Health for details about the number of cases connected to the new outbreak.

The hospital has dealt with several outbreaks throughout the pandemic.

Additionally, another outbreak was declared at Kelowna's Cottonwoods Care Centre on Jan. 24, although the Ministry of Health didn't announce the new outbreak in its daily update until Friday.

The care home has previously seen two separate outbreaks during the pandemic, the most recent one lasting more than three months and resulting in 17 deaths, before it was declared over in November.

Shortly before that outbreak was declared over, Dr. Henry called it “one of the most challenging” to control in B.C., due to the fact that rooms contained multiple beds.



COVID-positive hospitalizations increased by 1.3% in B.C.

2,137 new cases, 9 deaths

COVID hospitalizations increased by a little more than one per cent Friday.

The province is reporting 2,137 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours, bringing the province's active cases to 30,515. Of these cases, 990 people are now hospitalized, an increase of 13 since Thursday. Those in ICU have remained steady, at 141.

Active cases in the province rose by 959 since Thursday.

Of Friday's new cases, 569 came from the Interior. There are now 7,969 active cases in the region, and 121 people in the Interior hospitalized with COVID-19. Of these, 22 are being treated in critical care.

Another nine new COVID deaths have been reported throughout B.C. in the past 24 hours, including five in Fraser Health, three in Vancouver Coastal Health and one in Northern Health. To date, 2,597 British Columbians have died after contracting COVID-19.

The new/active cases include:

  • 740 new cases in Fraser Health — Total active cases: 12,928
  • 394 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health — Total active cases: 6,788
  • 569 new cases in Interior Health — Total active cases: 7,969
  • 170 new cases in Northern Health — Total active cases: 1,170
  • 264 new cases in Island Health — Total active cases: 1,654

There have been seven new healthcare facility outbreaks in B.C., including at Kelowna's Cottonwoods Care Centre. There are now 58 ongoing outbreaks at healthcare facilities across the province.

In the past 24 hours, 44,552 doses of the vaccine were administered in B.C. As of Thursday, 89.8% of eligible people five and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 83.8% have received their second dose. To date, 43.9% of all eligible people 12 and older have received their third booster dose.

For the second day in a row, the province has not released the data on hospitalizations and deaths by vaccine status.



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Some B.C. COVID restrictions could lift by mid-February

Looking to lift restrictions

UPDATE: 1:40 p.m.

If B.C. continues to see a decrease in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks, some restrictions on social gatherings could be lifted by Family Day.

On the two-year anniversary of B.C.'s first identified COVID-19 case, Dr. Bonnie Henry provided a recap Friday of the province's pandemic over the past two years.

On Jan. 28, 2020, the province first announced that a man in his 40s had returned to B.C. from Wuhan, China and tested positive for COVID-19.

Since then, the province has seen five separate waves of COVID-19 over the past two years, with a total of 318,906 positive tests. The current Omicron-driven wave has caused the highest level of active cases and hospitalizations the province has seen.

“Each of these waves have had their unique challenges and our response has adapted to that. We have made extraordinary societal efforts and these efforts have saved countless lives,” Dr. Henry said.

“We have been on an incredibly long and arduous journey, and no, I didn't think we'd be on this phase of the journey for this long, but it is the reality that we have to accept.”

With the current widespread transmission of the Omicron variant in the province, Dr. Henry once again noted that contact tracing is no longer an effective tool to control the virus, and B.C.'s testing has been overwhelmed.

“Because the virus has changed, we needed to reset our control strategies,” she said. “Contact tracing is not something that works with this degree of spread and it's not possible to test everyone, so we need to focus our testing on those people who need it most.”

But she noted that new case counts have been recently decreasing, and she hopes the province is seeing a peak in hospitalizations. With this, she hopes to be able to lift some COVID-19 restrictions by Family Day.

“People have a level of immunity because we've stepped up for booster doses ... if we are continuing on this trajectory then yes, I do hope that we will be able to lift some of those restrictions and gradually get back to those needed connections,” Dr. Henry said.

“We can look ahead to a time when we have enough immunity and we have enough control that we can start to open up again, and we can take these extraordinary measures away ... We're looking towards the middle of February, Family Day, when we can start to get back to doing some more things again.”

Data shared during Friday's press conference shows the success B.C. has had in reducing deaths and hospitalizations by COVID-19 compared to other provinces. Currently, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000 people in B.C. is lower than Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario.

When asked if she has any regrets on how she's handled the pandemic over the past two years, Dr. Henry said she could have done better at communicating major changes in the province's pandemic strategies when the virus changed.

“If I could do anything over, it would be to be clearer in some of those communications, particularly at those stressful times when things are changing,” Dr. Henry said.

She added a paraphrasing of a Maya Angelou quote that has guided her over the past two years: “Do the best with what you know, and when you know better, do better.”


ORIGINAL: 11:55 a.m.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix provide an update on COVID-19 in British Columbia.



Interior Health reports COVID outbreak at Monashee Mews in Lumby

Outbreak at Lumby LTC

Interior Health is reporting a new COVID-19 outbreak at a North Okanagan long-term care facility.

The outbreak was reported Jan. 25 at Monashee Mews in Lumby.

It is limited to the second floor.

Outbreaks have also been reported at three Vernon seniors homes and one in Salmon Arm in recent days.

An outbreak on the McAlpine Wing at Noric House in Vernon was recorded Jan 23.

Outbreaks were also declared at Heritage Square (first floor) Jan. 11 and The Hamlets (long-term care floors) on Jan. 9.

In Salmon Arm, another outbreak was declared at Mount Ida Mews' Chinook and Coho Units on Jan 18.

No numbers of cases have been given.



National vaccine committee recommends high-risk teens get COVID-19 booster

Teens urged to get booster

UPDATE: 9:25 a.m.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is now recommending teenagers with underlying conditions or at high-risk of COVID-19 exposure get a booster shot.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says kids and adolescents are still at low risk of serious illness in general from COVID-19 but because of the high rate of infection due to Omicron more kids are being admitted to hospital.

NACI's new advice for teenagers between 12 and 17 is to get a booster if they have an underlying medical condition or live in congregate settings or racialized or marginalized communities that have been hard hit by COVID-19 infections.

Health Canada data suggest in the last week 251 children under 12 and 84 adolescents between 12 and 19 years old were admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

Canada's advice is not as broad as that from the United States Centers for Disease Control which recommended Jan. 5 that all kids between 12 and 17 years old get a booster shot five months after their second dose.

Just over half of Canadian children five to 11 now have at least their first dose of vaccine, while 82 per cent of teens 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated.


ORIGINAL: 7 a.m.

A number of provinces are tweaking their public health protocols to ease restrictions as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to show signs of stabilizing.

Saskatchewan's government said Isolation rules would be relaxed today as the province transitions to treating COVID-19's highly communicable Omicron variant like other common respiratory viruses such as influenza.

The changes include no longer requiring close contacts of people who test positive for the coronavirus to self-isolate.

In Ontario cinemas, theatres, arenas and concerts will be reopening Monday, with capacity limits, but also with the ability to serve snacks and drinks.

Indoor dining will be back on the menu at restaurants, and Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that some non-urgent surgeries would be resuming.

Indoor dining at restaurants, with capacity limits, will also resume in New Brunswick starting Saturday, and students there are to return to in-person classes on Monday.

In Quebec, officials reported a significant drop in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday, although 56 new deaths were linked to the virus.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau will be working from home for a while after being exposed to COVID 19.

The prime minister said in a tweet Thursday that he learned of the exposure the previous night, adding that despite a subsequent rapid antigen test that was negative, he would follow public health rules and isolate for five days.



Long-term care still struggles with rampant COVID-19 cases as Omicron wave levels off

LTC cases still rampant

It's difficult to forget the tragic scenes that played out in long-term care homes across the country in the early days of the pandemic as residents died in the thousands, isolated from their loved ones.

While vaccines have played a major role in protecting homes from the same deadly toll the first wave of COVID-19 took on residents, the impact has still been profound during the Omicron wave.

"It's staggering when you just look at the number of homes in outbreak," said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the National Institute on Aging.

"It's just so sad when you think that in the last few weeks we've lost over 300 residents and just how unforgiving this pandemic has been, especially to those people living in our long-term care and retirement homes."

More than 34 per cent of Canada's 6,029 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak, the NIA's latest figures show.

That's twice as many homes as the second highest peak in long-term care outbreaks, when 1,000 homes were infected last January, Sinha said.

The number of outbreaks has continued to increase since the Omicron wave first struck in mid-December, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

And just in the last few days Canada marked the 16,000th death in long-term care since the pandemic began.

COVID-19 has also severely restricted the already short-staffed sector, as workers in the home have fallen ill and had to isolate.

That's led to concerns about the level of care residents are left with, and the potential for the suffering and deaths of residents who don't have the virus.

"It is very serious, what's going on," said Carole Estabrooks, scientific director of the pan-Canadian Translating Research in Elder Care program at the University of Alberta.

The latest wave has also renewed fears about restrictive isolation measures, Estabrooks said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Research is beginning to show the heavy toll prolonged isolation has taken on residents, Estabrooks said.

"It's causing deterioration and debilitation. There are early reports that suggests there have been excess mortality, excess death rates, because of the isolation," she said.

The isolation is particularly harmful to dementia patients, who make up the greatest population in long-term care, because they rely so much on routines, human connection and familiar faces, she said.

Most homes still allow a designated support person, usually a close family member, to visit the home even when other movement in and out of the homes is restricted.

But that has been one of the few gains made since the first wave, aside from vaccines, said Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care researcher and associate criminology professor at Ontario Tech University.

"Those were really the only two things that meaningfully changed in long-term care. Everything else has been a disaster," Stamatopoulos said.

Several efforts have been made across the country to improve the state of long-term care through new and proposed legislation at the federal and provincial levels.

New national standards are currently in development to try to shape what good long-term care should look like in Canada.

But the results of that work may be months, if not years away.

Still, some provinces have fared better than others, Sinha said. NIA's data shows that B.C. has done a better job of keeping infections down than some others, for example, he said.

"It feels like they have made some progress in terms of how they're applying lessons learned," he said.

Some provinces have also been more diligent than others in getting booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable long-term care residents and staff, he said, which has made a difference.

"It really just shows that COVID will not be forgiving, especially if you let your guard down," he said.



Liberal leadership candidate in twitter feud after letter supporting truck convoy and denouncing extension of vaccine passports

MLA in new Twitter feud

A new Twitter battle has erupted between Kelowna-Mission MLA and BC Liberal leadership hopeful Renee Merrifield and former Liberal MLA and current talk show host Jas Johal.

Johal, in a nine-point rant, took exception to Merrifield's Twitter post seeking support for her leadership campaign.

In the lengthy letter, Merrifield threw her support behind the truckers convoy heading to Ottawa and disagreed with the province's decision to extend the vaccine passport until at least June 1.

"The truckers rally currently driving across Canada is what happens when politicians have lost sight of common sense solutions, and have turned instead to divisive language," she wrote in part, saying truckers have kept the supply chains open throughout the pandemic.

"And (Tuesday) when the vaccine passports were extended to June 1, I wondered why?

"At a time when polls are showing one-third of British Columbians are struggling with their mental health because of COVID-19, and one-quarter report being depressed, why wouldn't we look to reduce restrictions and allow people to be together again?"

Johal, who last year also lashed out at Merrifield for comments about the NDP's lack of diversity, called the email irresponsible for anyone running for the leadership of the BC Liberal party.

He said the convoy is not representative of the trucking industry or the broader Canadian population.

"Ms. Merrifield joins Conservative MP’s, in playing footsie, with a fringe movement of anti-vaxxers, and anti-establishment types," he wrote.

"Already reports show people online are calling the trucker convoy Canada’s version of the U.S. Capitol insurrection and for the truckers to ram their trucks into Parliament, and people encouraging the hanging of politicians."

He also said health officials have stated unvaccinated people are 12 times more likely to require hospitalization and 27 times more likely to require intensive care.

"Whoever wins the leadership race, must never let Ms. Merrifield near the Health portfolio ever again," wrote Johal.

Merrifield reached out to supporters, thanking them for their support over the past 24 hours, while lashing out at Johal.

"It’s attitudes like this that discourage good people from public service. No wonder our province & country are in trouble. Political debate on policy is fair game. Unprovoked attacks without accountability cross the line. Sorry you disagree.

"This is the third time this media personality has taken a run at me, and made disparaging remarks about my character. I’ve never spoken to this “man.” Despite repeated offers to speak him about his unprovoked attacks, he has not once returned my call."

The BC Liberals will elect a new leader Feb. 5.



COVID-19 outbreak at KGH declared over after 16 cases, one death

KGH outbreak declared over

The latest COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital has been declared over, after 16 people contracted the virus and one person died.

The outbreak was declared on Jan. 11 in Unit 3W, which is a surgical unit.

Eight staff members and eight patients contracted the virus over the past two weeks, and one of these 16 people died.

The local hospital has dealt with several outbreaks throughout the pandemic.

With the latest KGH outbreak declared over, there remains COVID outbreaks at 11 long-term care homes and one assisted living facility in the Interior.

Of the 62 active healthcare facility outbreaks across the province, 11 are in acute care facilities like hospitals.



COVID-positive hospitalizations increased by 3% in B.C.

2,033 new cases, 13 deaths

COVID hospitalizations increased by 3 per cent Thursday.

The province is reporting 2,033 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours, bringing the province's active cases to 29,556. Of these cases, 977 people are now hospitalized, an increase of 28 since Wednesday. Of these, 141 people are now being treated in intensive care, a drop of three.

Active cases in the province continued to drop, by 502 since Wednesday.

Of Thursday's new cases, 539 came from the Interior. There are now 7,669 active cases in the region.

Another 13 new COVID deaths have been reported throughout B.C. in the past 24 hours, including one in the Interior, seven in Fraser Health, four in Vancouver Coastal Health and one in Island Health. To date, 2,575 British Columbians have died after contracting COVID-19.

The new/active cases include:

  • 685 new cases in Fraser Health — Total active cases: 12,351
  • 378 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health — Total active cases: 6,614
  • 539 new cases in Interior Health — Total active cases: 7,669
  • 165 new cases in Northern Health — Total active cases: 1,147
  • 266 new cases in Island Health — Total active cases: 1,768

There have been two new healthcare facility outbreaks in B.C., but the outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital has been declared over. There are now 62 ongoing outbreaks at healthcare facilities across the province.

In the past 24 hours, 44,545 doses of the vaccine were administered in B.C. As of Thursday, 89.7% of eligible people five and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 83.7% have received their second dose. To date, 43% of all eligible people 12 and older have received their third booster dose.

The province says due to a “delayed refresh in data,” updates on cases and hospitalizations by vaccination status are unavailable Thursday.



Canada's top doctor says severe COVID trends still rising in most jurisdictions

Severe illness still rising

Canada's top doctor says even though the average daily COVID-19 case count across the country is down 30 per cent compared to last week, it's not an accurate reflection of the state of the pandemic.

Dr. Theresa Tam says targeted testing policies and reduced testing continue to underestimate the number of true infections, noting severe illness trends are still rising in most jurisdictions and hospitalization rates are increasing across all age groups.

Quebec announced it will begin tracking COVID-19 rapid test results through an online portal, although experts question its usefulness and the accuracy of such data.

Health Minister Christian Dube says the government-run platform will help Quebec better track COVID-19 transmission in the community, given that publicly run PCR testing is reserved for people in high-risk groups.

COVID cases fuelled by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant continue to strain hospitals, with New Brunswick's health minister saying most emergency room patients could be treated outside hospitals.

Alberta recorded its second-highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations with 1,418, one day after an overall record of 1,443.



Kelowna Chamber hopes vaccine passport system will not be extended beyond June

Card extension no surprise

Victoria Femia

The executive director of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce says he's not surprised B.C. has extended its vaccine passport system to the end of June.

“Right now people are accustomed to using the passport and the positive aspect is at least the province is communicating well in advance of the end of this month, so that businesses know what the future will unfold,” Dan Rogers told Wednesday.

“And fingers crossed it won’t be extended past that.”

Rogers said the pandemic continues to impact tourism in the Interior, however, he’s hopeful it won’t have a greater impact on the industry into the warmer months.

“Fortunately our weather is so good at that time of year, there’s lots of activities that will occur outside, so there will be a bit of a shift of what occurs inside versus outside," he said.

“I think overall we’ll see good news come summer time for our tourism sector.”

Leader of the BC Libertarian Party Keith MacIntyre joined a protest outside the Castanet office in Kelowna Wednesday, protesting the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and media coverage of the pandemic.

MacIntyre shared his disapproval of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s decision to extend the vaccine card system, calling the decision "mind boggling."

“Coercing people into getting a medical treatment is illegal and therefore the vaccine mandates are illegal,” said MacIntyre.

MacIntyre added that vaccine passports are tough on businesses, and claimed businesses are “tired” of checking them.

“They don’t want to be checking people’s medical information, they’re not government enforcers, they don’t want to be doing this, so I’m encouraging businesses to just stop,” said MacIntyre.

On Wednesday, the B.C. announced 21 more COVID-positive people died in the past 24 hours alongside 2,086 new COVID-19 cases.



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