Transmission of the Omicron COVID-19 variant has likely peaked in B.C., according to data released by the provincial government.
Health officials released the data Friday, which suggested hospitalizations could peak in the province in a week or two.
Case trends, test positivity rates and wastewater sampling all suggest virus spread is now on the downslope in the Lower Mainland, following similar trends in other urban centres in the U.S. and U.K.
The Omicron variant has taken over as the dominant strain of the virus in just a month, but fewer people are being hospitalized and for not as long.
When compared to the Delta variant, those with Omicron end up staying in hospital for about half as long and have a 60% less chance of ending up in critical care or dying.
And while visits to emergency rooms for COVID-19 have surged to record levels, fewer of those people are actually being admitted to hospital.
Between Dec. 11 and Jan. 7, the unvaccinated were 12 times more likely to be hospitalized, 27 times more likely to be in critical care and 40 times more likely to die.
The provincial government will launch a new way to count hospitalizations on Friday, resulting in those figures climbing higher.
Moving forward, patients directly admitted to hospital for COVID, those who test positive incidentally while being in hospital for other reasons, and those who contract COVID during a hospital outbreak will all be counted.
Health officials revealed that until now, COVID hospitalization data did not include people involved in outbreaks or patients from out of province. The data stream was a “mishmash” of information from various sources that will now be standardized.
An audit of COVID cases and hospitalizations during the month of December in Vancouver Coastal Health found that of 7,989 PCR-confirmed cases in the community, 56 people were hospitalized.
About half of those hospitalized were directly there because of COVID, while the other half were “incidentally hospitalized” — they were tested for some other reason and found to have COVID. In the future incidental hospitalization data will be released "periodically."
Health officials have stopped looking so closely at absolute case counts when predicting where the pandemic is heading in B.C., but say case figures are still valuable at tracking trends and patterns.
And those patterns, for now, suggest transmission peaked in the Lower Mainland in the first week of January. The modelling shows hospitalizations will then peak sometime between Jan. 15 and 20.
The Interior Health region traditionally trends a few weeks behind the Lower Mainland.