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COVID-19 update: Change in hospitalization reporting and impact in health-care system

The latest data shows the unvaccinated are 27 times more likely to be admitted to critical care (52.4 versus 1.9 per 100,000) and 40 times more likely to die as a result of their infection (24 versus 0.6 per 100,000)

It may still be weeks before COVID-19-related hospitalizations in B.C. begin to decrease.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix gave that update and presented the latest data on Friday, Jan. 14, providing further context on the impact of the Omicron variant’s surge in this province.

"We're still at the point where our hospitalization rate is going up,” Henry said. “So, new hospitalizations are still a concern and we need to understand who is it that is being hospitalized and how we can affect that trajectory in the coming weeks," Henry said.

The latest data presented by the provincial government shows case rates dropping in the province as a whole, but still increasing in the Interior, Northern and Island health regions — though at a slower rate in the Interior.

But hospitalization rates are still increasing in most health authorities, including Interior Health.

By age, case rates are dropping in every age range except those 70 and older — a demographic that is also seeing increases in hospitalizations. Those 80 and older are seeing the sharpest increase in hospitalizations, at rates approximately five times higher than those ages 60-79, the second-most hospitalized group by rate.

The data presented on Friday also showed the effectiveness of vaccination in a number of formats.

As of late December 2021, approximately 17 per cent of all British Columbians are not vaccinated. That figure includes those ages zero to four, for whom no vaccine is available.

That same 17 per cent represents 47 per cent of all hospitalizations (as of Jan. 10), 69 per cent of all of those in critical care and 63 per cent of all of those who have died due to the disease, as of late December 2021.

Standardized by age, those unvaccinated are being hospitalized as a rate of 157.6 per 100,000, while those fully vaccinated are seeing rates of 12.9 per 100,000. Put another way, those who are unvaccinated are 12 times more likely to end up in hospital.

For admission to critical care and deaths, the difference is even more pronounced. Those unvaccinated are 27 times more likely to be admitted to critical care (52.4 versus 1.9 per 100,000) and 40 times more likely to die as a result of their infection (24 versus 0.6 per 100,000).

"I know when we look at the numbers every day, there's been a lot of people remarking on the fact that there's more vaccinated people in hospital than unvaccinated people,” Henry said. “But that number comes from a much, much bigger pool of people, so your risk of hospitalization is dramatically lower.”

COVID-19 and kids

An increase in cases and hospitalizations among children has also been detected, with 1,026 new cases in the past week among those ages four and younger.

In total, there have been 8,504 cases throughout the pandemic in that age group. There were also nine more hospitalizations in the youngest age group for a total of 152.

Those ages five to 11 are also seeing higher case rates, with 1,033 cases reported over the past week. That age group has seen 21,240 cases since the start of the pandemic. Two were hospitalized last week and 72 have been hospitalized since the start of the pandemic.

No deaths or critical-care admissions were reported among children over the past week, however. Two children, both under the age of four, have died throughout the pandemic.

Hospitalization reporting

The province has also announced a change in how it reports the number of people in hospital.

From now on, the figure reported will include those admitted to hospital because of COVID-19, those found to have COVID-19 incidentally, those who contracted COVID-19 in hospital due to an outbreak and those in B.C. hospitals from outside of B.C. or Canada.

Henry said the increase is expected to show in Friday's hospitalization figures, which she said will be about 600.

Health-care system impact

From Jan. 3 to Jan. 9 across all health authorities, 21,517 health-care workers were off sick due to illness of any kind, including COVID-19.

Compared to previous years, that figure is approximately twice as high as normal, according to information presented by Dix.

But he said this should not prevent people in B.C. from seeking care.

"If you have a serious reason to get care, get care. Do not be deterred by this. Our health care teams are doing a remarkable job," Dix said.

Measures have been taken to alleviate the strain on the system, such as the cancelling of what Dix called "non-urgent scheduled surgeries."