COVID-19 update: Jump in ICU admissions as B.C. extends restrictions

British Columbia's surge in coronavirus-positive patients in hospital continued on Tuesday, as officials confirmed most of the province's COVID-19 restrictions are being extended into next month.

The Ministry of Health said there are now 854 people with COVID-19 in hospitals across B.C., up from 819 on Monday. That total includes 112 patients battling the virus in intensive care, a jump of 13 per cent from the 99 announced the day before.

Most of the province's COVID-19 critical care patients are age 60 or older, according to a breakdown provided by Health Minister Adrian Dix on Twitter. All 12 of those who are at least 80 years old are fully vaccinated, highlighting the ongoing risks older people face from the virus.

"We need to really pay attention," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a news conference earlier in the day. "With the high rates of transmission, there are still lots of people who do get seriously ill."

Officials noted that people's immune systems get less responsive with age, and many older residents have underlying conditions that leave them at higher risk.

The unvaccinated are also more vulnerable than the general population, Henry said, despite perceptions that Omicron is a mild iteration of COVID-19.

People without any vaccine protection make up 42 per cent of ICU patients, and 60 per cent of those under the age of 50. That makes them vastly over-represented, since that group only accounts for 14 per cent of the population.

The Ministry of Health also announced two new deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, both of which were reported in the Fraser Health region. The government does not provide the vaccination status of the deceased in daily updates.

The numbers of daily coronavirus-related deaths have been increasing gradually over the last two weeks. It's unclear whether that is linked to a resurgence in COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities.

The ministry announced nine new outbreaks in the health-care system on Tuesday, at CareLife Fleetwood, Menno Hospital, Buchanan Lodge, St. Michael's Centre, Eden Care Centre, Village at Smith Creek, Veterans Memorial Lodge, Sunset Lodge and Sidney Care Home. Six others were declared over, leaving 53 active outbreaks in health-care facilities.

There have also been 1,975 new test-positive cases of COVID-19 recorded across B.C. That pushed the seven-day average down to 2,184 per day, though case numbers are said to under-reported because the province's testing capacity has been maxed out for weeks.

Still, officials have said they believe transmission for the Omicron wave has already peaked and started to decrease, as evidenced by ongoing monitoring of COVID-19 levels in wastewater.

Here is the breakdown of people in critical care and their vaccination status: pic.twitter.com/Jv3AkMZ198

— Adrian Dix (@adriandix) January 19, 2022

Health officials cited ongoing high levels of transmission, as well as record hospitalizations, for extending most of the restrictions that were imposed last month. Those measures limit the size of household gatherings, ban indoor events such as weddings and funerals, prohibit bars and nightclubs from operating, and strictly regulate the behaviour of diners in restaurants.

Gyms and fitness facilities are being allowed to reopen on Jan. 20, however, under updated guidelines that include a required seven square metres of separation between people exercising.

Conversely to case numbers, overall COVID-19 hospitalizations are considered an "overestimate" of COVID-19's impact on health care, particularly since the province switched to a new system of reporting that includes all so-called incidental cases – people who were in hospital for reasons unrelated to the virus but tested positive during routine screening.

Officials have said approximately 45 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations are likely incidental, based on a case study conducted in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.