Dr. Bonnie Henry provides update on B.C.'s COVID-19 situation heading into the fall

'Emerging from pandemic'

UPDATE: 1:15 p.m.

B.C.'s top doctor says the province is “emerging from this pandemic,” but there remains some uncertainty around how COVID-19 will impact B.C. over the next several months.

During a briefing Wednesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry presented new data that shows of the relatively low number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths B.C. has seen in the past several months, roughly half of these were actually caused by COVID-19. About 40-50% of these COVID-positive hospitalizations and deaths were due to other factors not related to the virus.

Dr. Henry noted infection from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is “primarily causing a milder form of illness in most people,” but age-adjusted data presented Wednesday shows from January to September of this year, unvaccinated British Columbians still had a four-times higher risk of being hospitalized or dying from the Omicron variant compared to those with three doses of the vaccine.

“Vaccination is making a tremendous difference and the risk is four-fold higher for people who are not vaccinated no matter where they are at what age in this community,” Dr. Henry said.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has remained the dominant strain of the virus in B.C. for the past 10 months, and it's expected to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

“It's very unlikely that we are going to be facing in the next few months an unknown, rapidly progressing new variant that escapes immunity from vaccination or previous infection and is more infectious than what we're seeing right now,” Dr. Henry said.

But while research from last month shows about 97% of B.C.'s population now has some form of antibodies for COVID-19, either from past infection or vaccination, Dr. Henry says they're currently preparing for the possibility of some “waning” of immunity through the winter months.

“It would be unlikely that some new strain would arise in B.C. or Canada given our level of immunity, our level of vaccination, so what we're planning on for the next few months is waning immunity, either from vaccination or previous infection, but an Omicron scenario of some variety that might lead to a surge by the fall,” she said.

“It's likely that we would see the waning immunity impact potentially have a surge in COVID around November, December and into January. So that's the scenario that we're thinking through about how to plan for that.”

This planning includes preparing B.C.'s hospitals for an increase in COVID patients. Modelling suggests a high of about 700 additional COVID patients in B.C. hospitals during a potential surge. There are currently about 350 COVID patients in hospital. They are also projecting a possible peak of up to 1,200 influenza patients.

One move the B.C. government is working on is to free up space in hospitals by moving some patients out of hospital that can be cared for in the community instead. This could potentially free up hundreds or hospital beds if needed.

ORIGINAL: 12:55 p.m.

B.C.'s Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provide an update on COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses heading into the fall.

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