With pandemic restrictions largely gone, British Columbia health officials are expecting hospitalizations to surge across the province due to increased influenza and COVID-19 infections.
Roughly 700 people across the province may be hospitalized with COVID-19 over the fall and winter months and as many as 1,200 people could be hospitalized with influenza during the same period, according to new B.C. government data.
Adrian Dix, minister of health, said during a press conference Wednesday that the province’s hospital system can currently handle roughly 9,400 patients on a daily basis, but work is underway to add an additional capacity in order to handle the anticipated surge of new patients.
“We are planning bed management to support bed availability based on moderate to high projections, so that means planning 1,500 more beds,” he said. “That doesn’t mean 10,900 in hospital, that means ensuring that we have room for those potential additional patients.”
Dix said roughly 1,300 patients currently in hospital could be cared for in the community and that 500 patients are currently awaiting care home placement.
“Patients are being identified now for potential transfer to the community, reducing hospitalization in case 500 more beds are needed,” he said. “This is an important step that we are doing ways in and in different places.”
Worst-case scenario planning is also underway, which, should it be required, would result in service reductions and postponement of surgeries, said Dix.
“We obviously want to avoid this,” he said, later adding. “Obviously we hope for best-case scenarios.”
In an effort to help reduce influenza and coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, B.C. will begin offering free flu shots next month for everyone six months and older. Seniors, meanwhile, are eligible for enhanced vaccines that provide additional protection such as FluzoneHD and Fluad.
Dix stressed that British Columbians have a responsibility to do their part and can help lesser than the strain by getting immunized.
“We can get immunized against influenza, immunized [with] bivalent vaccine against COVID-19. These are critical steps that we can take because it is not just the vaccine,” he said. “As exceptional as these vaccines have been and these new vaccines are, it is the vaccination. It doesn’t do to have the vaccine in the bottle, it needs to be in people to work.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said Wednesday the government is focused on protecting those most at risk of serious illness or death and the overall healthcare system.
“We need to protect our healthcare system capacity, we know that has been a strain and on top of an ongoing strain that predated this pandemic and some of the important measures that we need to continue are ensuring that all of our healthcare workers have the best protection possible,” she said.
Henry also said the government is keen on protecting the overall community and ensuring people can gather safely, noting that B.C. is in a different risk setting than even a year ago.
“I do believe we are emerging from this pandemic but a lot of uncertainty remains and COVID-19 is going to be with us for the long term,” she said.
Omicron has been the most dominant variant since the COVID-19 pandemic began and is expected to remain so over the next several months, according to Henry, who also said COVID-19 is expected to surge around November through January. She also said she expects the flu may peak around the same time, based on the experiences of Australia and New Zealand.
With files from The Canadian Press