B.C.’s top doctor signalled Friday that the province’s approach to COVID-19 has shifted as new data appears to show the current surge of the Omicron variant has been milder than previous waves of the pandemic when it comes to the rate of hospitalizations.
Data presented by Dr. Bonnie Henry at a 10 a.m. news conference shows that compared to the wave fuelled by the Delta variant, there is a lower rate of hospitalizations caused by Omicron.
She said the rate of hospitalization is even dramatically lower when compared to the Delta wave — 9.1 per cent now compared to 58.3 per cent then — among the highest-risk population.
Henry said overall numbers of cases and hospitalizations have been dropping recently after hitting a peak but continue to be high relative to the rest of the pandemic in B.C. There were 891 hospitalizations reported Thursday, four fewer than the day before when they reached a record-high 895.
The most important risk factor when it comes to hospitalizations continues to be age, with people 80 and older 28 times more likely to require hospital care when infected with the disease.
Henry said health officials have adapted to Omicron, which has been “milder” than Delta but at the same time, has a high level of transmission, and that their focus is now on reducing risk and transmission instead of using contact tracing, which is no longer effective, or testing anyone with symptoms, as there is no longer capacity to do so.
“We all need to assume we’ve been in contact with somebody with the virus,” she said. “We are all close contacts of somebody with the virus so we need to pay attention to how we’re feeling and have a low threshold for staying away if we’re feeling unwell, but we don’t need to isolate if a friend or family member knows they have COVID.”
Henry referenced changes made this week to the BC Centre for Disease Control’s guidance on ending isolation for close contacts of people with COVID-19, as well as lifting a five-day isolation period for vaccinated adults who haven’t tested positive but have mild symptoms.
“If you have mild illness like sore throat or sniffles, stay home and if you feel better next day go back to work, school, child care, and this applies to kids in daycare or school and adults.”
Henry said she recognizes this is a shift in tone in regards to the pandemic.
“It means that we have to change our way of thinking that we’ve been so intently working on together for the last two years,” she said.
“We cannot eliminate all risk and I think that’s something we need to understand and accept.”
She urged British Columbians to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 every single day and to follow the updated isolation protocols if they feel ill.