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Coronavirus  

COVID-positive hospitalizations stop falling in B.C.

269 new cases, one death

COVID-positive hospitalizations crept upwards by 1.5 per cent in B.C. in the past day.

The provincial government announced Wednesday 269 new cases, including 73 in Interior Health.

Across B.C., there are 258 (up from 254) individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, and 49 in intensive care. There are 58 people hospitalized in the BC Interior, six of whom are in critical care.

The new cases include:

  • Fraser Health: 49
  • Vancouver Coastal Health: 51
  • Interior Health: 73
  • Northern Health: 43
  • Island Health: 53

In the past 24 hours, one new death (Northern Health) has been reported, for an overall total of 2,975.

As of Wednesday, 93.4% of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 91.0% received their second dose and 57.1% have received a third dose.

From March 15-21, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 16.0% of cases. From March 8-21, they accounted for 26.3% of hospitalizations.

Past week, cases per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (March 15-21)

  • Not vaccinated: 60.4
  • Partially vaccinated: 18.2
  • Fully vaccinated: 25.5

Past two weeks, cases hospitalized per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (March 8-21)

  • Not vaccinated: 23.8
  • Partially vaccinated: 11.7
  • Fully vaccinated: 5.8

Past week cases (March 15-21) - Total 1,416

  • Not vaccinated: 203 (14.3%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 24 (1.7%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 1,189 (84.0%)

Past two weeks cases hospitalized (March 8-21) - Total 369

  • Not vaccinated: 84 (22.8%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 13 (3.5%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 272 (73.7%)


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COVID-positive hospitalizations fall by over 6% in B.C. in past day

259 new cases, zero deaths

COVID-positive hospitalizations fell by more than six per cent over the past day in B.C.

The provincial government announced Tuesday 259 new coronavirus cases, including 76 in the Interior Health region.

Across B.C., there are 254 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 and 48 in intensive care. In the Interior Health region there are 63 people hospitalized, seven of whom are in critical care.

No new deaths were reported Tuesday.

The new cases include:

  • Fraser Health: 47
  • Vancouver Coastal Health: 63
  • Interior Health: 76
  • Northern Health: 23
  • Island Health: 50

As of Tuesday, 93.4% of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 91.0% received their second dose and 57.1% have received a third dose.

From March 14-20, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 16.2% of cases. From March 7-20, they accounted for 26.2% of hospitalizations.

Past week, cases per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (March 14-20)

  • Not vaccinated: 58.0
  • Partially vaccinated: 16.8
  • Fully vaccinated: 25.2

Past two weeks, cases hospitalized per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (March 7-20

  • Not vaccinated: 22.5
  • Partially vaccinated: 9.1
  • Fully vaccinated: 5.4

Past week cases (March 14-20) - Total 1,403

  • Not vaccinated: 202 (14.4%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 25 (1.8%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 1,176 (83.8%)

Past two weeks cases hospitalized (March 7-20) - Total 344

  • Not vaccinated: 80 (23.3%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 10 (2.9%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 254 (73.8%)


COVID-positive hospitalizations fell by 2.7% in past day

199 new cases, six deaths

COVID-positive hospitalizations fell by more than two per cent over the past day.

The provincial government announced 199 new COVID-19 cases, including 72 in the Interior Health region, over the past 24 hours.

Across B.C., there are 290 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 and 46 are in intensive care.

There were six new deaths reported in the last 24 hours, in the Fraser and Island health regions

The new cases include:

  • Fraser Health: 52
  • Vancouver Coastal Health: 18
  • Interior Health: 72
  • Northern Health: 14
  • Island Health: 43

No new healthcare facility outbreaks were declared Friday, and there remains seven active outbreaks across the province.

In the past 24 hours, 4,769 doses of the vaccine were administered in B.C. As of Friday, 93.4% of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 90.9% received their second dose and 56.9% have received a third dose.

From March 10-16, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 17.2% of cases and from March 3-16, they accounted for 26.2% of hospitalizations.

Past week, cases per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (March 10-16)

  • Not vaccinated: 66.5
  • Partially vaccinated: 18.0
  • Fully vaccinated: 28.2

Past two weeks, cases hospitalized per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (March 3-16)

  • Not vaccinated: 30.4
  • Partially vaccinated: 12.3
  • Fully vaccinated: 6.9

Past week cases (March 10-16) - Total 1,574

  • Not vaccinated: 239 (15.2%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 32 (2.0%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 1,303 (82.8%)

Past two weeks cases hospitalized (March 3-16) - Total 439

  • Not vaccinated: 102 (23.2%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 13 (3.0%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 324 (73.8%)


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Bump in COVID-19 cases 'not unexpected' as public health measures lifted, Tam says

Case bump not unexpected

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says increased COVID-19 transmission is "not unexpected" as public health measures are lifted and cases pick up internationally.

Tam says the number of new cases of the virus have started to level off after weeks of decline.

In Canada, the daily average number of people in hospital with COVID-19 declined by 11 per cent since last week, and the number of people in intensive care declined by 14 per cent.

The spread of COVID-19 abroad has been partially blamed on BA.2, a sublineage of the Omicron variant that has been dubbed "stealth Omicron."

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo says the spread of BA.2 seems to be highest in places where booster vaccine coverage is low and fewer people were infected with Omicron in the last wave.

In Canada, Tam says BA.2 is spreading relatively slowly and does not appear to be more severe than other variants.



NACI recommends kids get Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, calls Moderna suitable alternative

NACI favours Pfizer for kids

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has released new guidelines that favour giving kids a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine over the newly approved Moderna version.

Health Canada approved Moderna's pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages six to 11 on Thursday.

The risk of heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, in Moderna's child-sized dose is unknown, but the adult dose carries a slightly higher risk of the rare adverse complication in adolescents when compared to the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech.

The advisory committee says Moderna's vaccine can be offered to kids as an alternative, but the Pfizer dose is preferred for the first two shots because of the potential risk for myocarditis.

Moderna's vaccine does appear to be slightly more effective, according to indirect data in the adult population.

For that reason, the committee says a three-dose regimen of Moderna may be considered for some immunocompromised kids.



Two years in, no moving on from COVID-19 for Canada's exhausted health-care workers

Two years in, no moving on

COVID-19 cases continue to roll into the two Toronto-area hospitals where Eram Chhogala works as a trauma nurse. The numbers have dwindled to a stream instead of a wave, but each is a reminder of what the disease has done and could possibly still do.

"Previously, we had high numbers and waves where people came in heavy bottlenecks, and I'm just wondering if it's going to be the same thing again," Chhogala said in a phone interview this week. "You know, it's the wonder of, 'Is this going to happen again?'"

With mask mandates and other COVID-19 health restrictions lifting, many Canadians are finally able to envision a return to normal life. But, as they face burnout, staff shortages and daunting procedural backlogs, some health workers say it isn't so easy to move on.

Chhogala says she understands people's desire to return to a more normal life. But she also worries that health measures such as mask mandates are lifting too quickly, while there's still so much to do to ensure the health system is ready for another wave.

"A lot of people are probably really excited that they can go back to normal again, but I just don't think that we're at that normal yet," she says.

Chhogala, 36, says no health worker has emerged unscathed from the pandemic.

They have had to watch wave after wave of very sick people struggle and die, she said. Many fell ill themselves. Some of her colleagues burned out and left the profession or plan to take early retirement. Later in the pandemic, health workers were harassed by anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters.

Perhaps most devastatingly, Chhogala's own father died of COVID-19.

"It changed the way we think, feel and act," she says of the pandemic.

Last week, the Canadian Medical Association and some 40 organizations representing health workers called for urgent government action to address issues facing the ailing system.

"While governments and Canadians are hoping to move past the pandemic, an exhausted, depleted health workforce is struggling to provide timely, necessary care to patients and make progress through a significant backlog of tests, surgeries and regular care,” CMA president Katharine Smart said in a statement following an emergency meeting.

Among the challenges the system faces is a backlog of delayed surgeries and procedures that could take years to clear.

A report by the Ontario Medical Association last month found that the backlog in that province alone was more than one million surgeries. Manitoba's delay had grown to over 161,000 diagnostic and surgical procedures as of mid-February, according to Doctors Manitoba, a group representing the province's doctors.

In Quebec, hospitals across the province had to reduce surgeries by about 50 per cent at the height of the Omicron wave. Dr. François Marquis, the chief of intensive care at Montreal's Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital, says it will take months for the hospital to bring surgical waiting lists to their already daunting pre-pandemic levels.

Now that the number of COVID-19 patients has declined, officials are shifting to a different set of challenges: rebuilding the team, reopening beds and catching up on surgeries.

“The hospital is not working full speed," he said in a phone interview. "There are not enough surgeries, there are not enough patients being admitted. You still have rooms that are closed because we don't have enough nurses and (respiratory therapists)."

Marquis says catching up is a challenge, given the number of nurses that have retired, left the field or transferred. But by working efficiently to streamline procedures, he's happy to say that the hospital hasn't cancelled a single surgery in recent weeks.

Despite rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of the world, Marquis says he isn't worried about the spring or summer, when respiratory viruses typically subside. Fall could be "a challenge," but he hopes that the public’s willingness to adopt masks and — hopefully — a vaccine that protects against both COVID-19 and the flu, could lessen the impact.

“I’m naturally optimistic,” he said. “I think you have to be to be a critical care specialist, because if you see everything on the dark side, you’re not going to survive very long in the field.”

Naveed Hussain, a nurse at Montreal's McGill University Health Centre, says the last two years have left him feeling exhausted and frustrated that so little seems to have changed in how governments approach health care.

"We've seen a lot of reactionary measures, but we haven't seen anything that's been preventive, been put in place to be ready for the next wave or the next pandemic that might occur," he said.

Hussain helped train the patient attendants hired by the Quebec government in 2020 to work in long-term care homes and says some of them have already left the field due to a lack of support.

He said the government desperately needs to invest in both health-care infrastructure and its workers, through better training, mental health support and improved working conditions.

Like most of the population, he was happy to see restrictions ease and normal activities resume. But with cases rising in China and Europe, he can't help but worry about what lies ahead.

"You know that there's something coming around the corner and, as health-care professionals, we know that's the reality," he said. "And we know that we're going to have to be prepared again for the fight, because this thing isn't over yet."



Moderna seeks FDA authorization for 4th dose of COVID vaccine

Moderna seeks 4th dose

Drugmaker Moderna asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday to authorize a fourth shot of its COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose for all adults.

The request is broader than rival pharmaceutical company Pfizer's request earlier this week for the regulator to approve a booster shot for all seniors.

In a press release, the company said its request for approval for all adults was made “to provide flexibility” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical providers to determine the “appropriate use” of a second booster dose of the mRNA vaccine, “including for those at higher risk of COVID-19 due to age or comorbidities."

U.S. officials have been laying the groundwork to deliver additional booster doses to shore up the vaccines' protection against serious disease and death from COVID-19. The White House has been sounding the alarm that it needs Congress to “urgently” approve more funding for the federal government to secure more doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, either for additional booster shots or variant-specific immunizations.

U.S. health officials currently recommend a primary series of two doses of the Moderna vaccine and a booster dose months later.

Moderna said its request for an additional dose was based on “recently published data generated in the United States and Israel following the emergence of Omicron.”

On Tuesday, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech asked U.S. regulators to authorize an additional booster dose of their COVID-19 vaccine for seniors, saying data from Israel suggests older adults would benefit.



COVID-positive hospitalizations fell by 9.4% in past day

240 new cases, seven deaths

COVID-positive hospitalizations fell by more than nine per cent over the past day.

The provincial government announced 240 new COVID-19 cases, including 66 in the Interior Health region, over the past 24 hours.

Across B.C., there are 298 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 and 49 are in intensive care.

There were seven new deaths reported in the last 24 hours. None occurred in the Interior.

The new cases include:

  • Fraser Health: 47
  • Vancouver Coastal Health: 52
  • Interior Health: 66
  • Northern Health: 34
  • Island Health: 41

One new healthcare facility outbreak was declared Thursday on Vancouver Island, and there remains eight active outbreaks across the province. Kamloops' Ponderosa Lodge and Salmon Arm's Hillside Village care homes are the remaining two outbreaks in the Interior.

In the past 24 hours, 5,166 doses of the vaccine were administered in B.C. As of Thursday, 93.4% of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 90.9% received their second dose and 56.8% have received a third dose.

From March 9-15, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 16.5% of cases and from March 2-15, they accounted for 27.6% of hospitalizations.

Past week, cases per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (March 9-15)

  • Not vaccinated: 63.0
  • Partially vaccinated: 20.4
  • Fully vaccinated: 29.8

Past two weeks, cases hospitalized per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (March 2-15)

  • Not vaccinated: 30.5
  • Partially vaccinated: 15.0
  • Fully vaccinated: 6.6

Past week cases (March 9-15) - Total 1,662

  • Not vaccinated: 238 (14.3%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 37 (2.2%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 1,387 (83.5%)

Past two weeks cases hospitalized (March 2-15) - Total 431

  • Not vaccinated: 103 (23.9%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 16 (3.7%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 312 (72.4%)


Vaccinated travellers won't need COVID-19 test to enter Canada as of April 1

No test to enter Canada

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says vaccinated travellers will no longer need to show a COVID-19 test to enter Canada beginning April 1.

Incoming tourists will still need to be vaccinated to visit Canada, and all inbound travellers must also upload their details to the ArriveCan app.

Duclos says vaccinated people could also still be subject to random molecular tests when they arrive at Canadian airports.

Unvaccinated Canadians who are returning to the country will still need to isolate and be tested on arrival, and again eight days later.

The news comes at the tail end of the Omicron wave in Canada, as new reported cases of COVID-19 have declined since mid-January.

The World Health Organization says the number of cases internationally has begun to creep up in the Western Pacific region, Africa and Europe.



Central Okanagan School District pauses implementation of vaccine-or-test mandate

Vaccine mandate paused

School District 23 has put a temporary halt to implementation of its vaccine-or-test mandate for staff and trustees.

In January, the board voted to require staff to be double vaccinated, or take regular rapid testing before being able to enter a classroom.

The mandate was to have come into effect following spring break.

But, with the loosening of restrictions around the wearing of masks and vaccine passports, the Board of Education voted Tuesday to pause implementation of the mandate.

"As we approach spring break, and after considering the new provincial health orders regarding mask wearing and vaccine passports, the board decided to pause implementation of the vaccine mandate process it started in January," said board chair Moyra Baxter.

"Should the situation change, the board will reconsider its options.

"The board remains committed to encouraging everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated and supports all employees and students in their choice regarding the wearing of masks."

The wearing of masks in public indoor spaces is no longer mandatory, while the requirement to show proof of vaccination before entering certain businesses is being repealed in B.C. as of April 8.

It was revealed last week that UBC ended a similar vaccine-or-test program on March 1 at the urging of officials with Vancouver Coastal Health.



COVID-positive hospitalizations fall by just under 4% in last day

237 new cases, zero deaths

COVID-positive hospitalizations fell by just under four per cent over the past day.

The provincial government announced 237 new coronavirus cases, including 69 in the Interior Health region, over the past 24 hours.

Across B.C., there are 345 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 and 50 are in intensive care. In the Interior Health region, there are 78 people hospitalized, eight of whom are in critical care.

There were no new deaths reported in the last 24 hours.

The new cases include:

  • Fraser Health: 70
  • Vancouver Coastal Health: 40
  • Interior Health: 69
  • Northern Health: 24
  • Island Health: 34

As of Tuesday, 93.4% of eligible people 12 and older have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 90.9% received their second dose and 56.7% have received a third dose.

Data related to vaccination status of recent cases was not released Tuesday.



COVID’s arrival caught B.C. authorities deeply unprepared, documents show

BC was caught unprepared

British Columbia’s second mask mandate is over, two years after provincial officials discouraged the public from wearing face masks and promoted hand-washing to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Behind the scenes, according to briefing notes obtained under freedom of information laws, they were panicking about empty shelves.

In February 2020, demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) spiked after China’s biggest factories closed. B.C. medical supplies buyers sounded the alarm about depleted regional stockpiles. Almost $3 million of emergency supplies bought since 2013 had expired, become obsolete, been donated to Africa’s anti-Ebola effort or absorbed into daily use. Just over $2 million of surgical masks, N95 respirators, gloves, goggles, gowns, hand sanitizer, syringes, needles and bandages remained.

“Should a widespread pandemic occur in B.C., the current level of pandemic supplies will likely not meet B.C.’s requirements which may lead to public safety risk,” said a Feb. 13, 2020, Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) supply chain department briefing note.

As COVID-19 spread, PHSA’s new CEO, Benoit Morin, did a $7 million, no-bid deal with a Quebec supplier. But the made-in-China items delivered by Luminarie were flawed and the costly writedown led to Morin’s early-2021 firing. Fraser Health spent $2.65 million with Burnaby’s West-Can Auto Parts, including 200,000 level-2 masks and 8,000 one-gallon jugs of hand sanitizer.

From April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, PHSA and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) went on a half-billion-dollar PPE buying spree to protect doctors, nurses, technicians and patients from the virus. A June 2021 briefing note, obtained under a freedom of information request, shows PHSA spent $465 million and VCH $41.9 million (quantities were not included). But around 20% – or $102.1 million – was deemed unfit for use and written off in end-of-year financial reports: $67.4 million for PHSA and $37.4 million for VCH.

“The inventory still exists in B.C.,” said the briefing note. “While it does not meet strict healthcare standards, much is still considered to be acceptable PPE for other, less controlled settings.”

By February 2021, according to another briefing note, B.C. had six to 12 months’ stock of key PPE. Some types exceeded 12 months on-hand. There was so much that three warehouses had to be rented. Only a year earlier, Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister, Don Wright, had ordered staff to search under their desks for N95 masks in their earthquake kits.

Wright’s March 27, 2020, memo appealed for respirators to be sent to his office for redistribution to doctors and nurses on the frontlines.

“I expect the Premier will be very interested in seeing how many masks are collected, which is why I would ask that they come here,” Wright wrote. The precise number of N95’s collected was not released, but 1,265 masks and five boxes of latex gloves were found in Ministry of Health offices.

B.C. originally built a stockpile after the Dr. Theresa Tam-led, Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector report in 2006. Tam and co-authors warned provinces to be prepared because a pandemic would trigger international supply chain shortages.

A British Columbia Ministry of Health assistant deputy minister told regional officials in 2007 to build up a 10-week stockpile of emergency supplies. Michael MacDougall estimated waves would last six to eight weeks, and possibly 15 weeks in a large area.

“A survey of major suppliers’ stockpile practices indicates they also have about two weeks of inventory in Canada,” MacDougall wrote. “Many suppliers manufacture offshore and the majority of suppliers do not have pandemic business continuity plans.”

The World Health Organization officially declared the pandemic on March 11, 2020. Just over a month earlier, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said PPE demand was 100 times greater and prices 20 times more expensive than normal.

A scathing report by the Canadian Federation of Nurses in October 2020, called “Time of Fear: How Canada Failed Our Health Care Workers and Mismanaged COVID-19,” said Canada was woefully unprepared because it largely ignored the lessons of SARS.

“We will never know how many of the more than 21,000 Canadian health care workers infected with COVID?19 might have been kept safe had there been sufficient stockpiles at a precautionary level,” the report said.

In the only televised leaders’ debate of the 2020 snap election, Horgan admitted his government hadn’t anticipated a pandemic.

“We didn’t think about it in 2017, 2018 or 2019,” Horgan said. “We didn’t think about it in February [2020], when we tabled our balanced budget. We only thought about it in March when it hit us right in the face.”



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