Health officials brace for surge in hospital visits due to flu, COVID, RSV

Health officials brace for surge in hospital visits due to flu, COVID, RSV

A new report indicates that a surge of COVID cases may be on the horizon as immunity from vaccines wanes, while health officials are dealing with an increase in hospital visits.

The BC COVID-19 Modelling Group released its monthly report, indicating cases over the winter will be fed by waning immunity, according to Dr. Sarah Otto.

“COVID is around, and it’s around in fairly high numbers at the moment. And that is because it’s being fed by waning immunity,” Otto said.

That is borne out by the latest emergency room numbers from Island Health.

The number of daily visits between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15 to hospital emergency rooms and emergency admissions due to respiratory illness-presenting symptoms are higher this year than in the previous four.

Visits and admissions are up substantially so far this year thanks to an early influenza season, RSV, and COVID-19.

B.C.’s fall booster campaign offers a bivalent COVID vaccine and a flu shot, but not enough people are getting those shots in time.

As that happens, more people are getting sick, though Otto says the massive spike from Omicron in January, likely won’t happen again.

“We saw a peak in October. That wasn’t a new variant, that was just a pulse of people that were losing immunity at roughly the same time,” Otto said.

Island Health reports it’s planning for various scenarios to respond if a surge in patients with respiratory illness hits hospitals, and are ready.

But the dozens of nurses, including Kelley Charters, a nurse and council member with the BC Nurses’ Union, who gathered outside Nanaimo Regional Hospital disagree.

“We’re seeing 40-50 plus patients waiting for beds in the tower, and 200 plus patients a day with half the amount of staff that we should have,” Charters said.

Also at the Nanaimo rally, BC Nurses Union vice president Adriane Gear said daily crushing workloads are a significant issue at NRGH, particularly for emergency room nurses.

“As nurses, we remain committed to our patients. And we want to provide the care they deserve and require but currently, working conditions are as such that that care is not being provided,” Gear said.

In a release, the BC Nurses Union says two weeks ago an ER nurse in Nanaimo was assigned 55 patients.

Nurses say closures at emergency rooms in Port Hardy, Port McNeil and Alert Bay have put even more stress on Nanaimo’s ER.

They say the province needs to do more to recruit and retain nurses.

And flu season has only just begun.

Correction: An earlier version of this story didn’t specify respiratory illness-related visits and admissions to Island Health hospitals are higher this year than in the previous four.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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