Fewer COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals this week as 6th wave shows signs of receding

The number of COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals has declined since last week, but remains elevated compared to where it was when the province first switched to weekly reporting of pandemic data.

There were 540 test-positive patients in hospital as of Thursday, down from 596 at this time last week and the lowest total seen since April 21.

There were also 49 people with COVID-19 in critical care in B.C. as of Thursday.

Hospitalization totals include both those who are admitted to hospital because of serious illness caused by COVID-19 and those who are admitted to hospital for other reasons and test positive incidentally.

This is known as a "hospital census" approach. Since the province switched to counting hospitalizations this way in January, there have been as many as 985 coronavirus patients in hospital and as few as 255.

DECLINING CASES AND MODELLING

The number of patients currently in hospital and receiving critical care is the only up-to-date data the B.C. Centre for Disease Control publishes in its weekly updates. All of the other data released each week is for the last full epidemiological week, which spanned May 8 to 14.

During that time period, there were 1,645 new, lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, marking the third consecutive week that new positive tests have declined in the province.

It should be noted, however, that the province only reports a fraction of new infections each week. The totals B.C. releases reflect only cases confirmed by or epidemiologically linked to positive PCR tests, and most residents of the province do not qualify for a publicly funded PCR test under the current testing strategy. The province neither collects nor reports positive rapid test results.

Still, declines in patients in hospital and lab-confirmed cases – along with recent wastewater surveillance in the Lower Mainland – are signs that the sixth wave of the pandemic in B.C. has reached its peak, according to the latest analysis of pandemic data from the independent B.C. COVID-19 modelling group. 

The group's report notes, however, that rates of hospitalization and cases remain high.

"While the second Omicron wave (BA.2 driven) appears to be peaking at a lower level than the first Omicron wave (BA.1 driven), hospital occupancy and cases (using an age-based correction for underreporting) are still higher than any previous time in the pandemic, prior to Omicron," the report reads.

NEW HOSPITALIZATIONS AND DEATHS

Other data released by the BCCDC on Thursday does not show ongoing declines. 

The number of new hospital admissions during the week of May 8 to 14, for example, was essentially the same as the number reported last Thursday. There were 334 this week and 331 in the initial count last week.

Last week's numbers have since been revised up to 391 new hospitalizations, and the current week's total is expected to be revised "as data become more complete," but the starting point for the two weeks is nearly identical.

Similarly, the BCCDC reported 59 new deaths for the week of May 8 to 14, which is the same number it reported for the preceding week.

Deaths are measured as "30-day, all-cause mortality," meaning anyone who dies within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 test is included, regardless of whether the disease is what caused them to die.

Death totals are also subject to revision over time. Last week's 59 new deaths, for example, had been revised up to 84 as of Thursday. That's the highest number of deaths the province has reported in a week since switching to the all-cause mortality model on April 2.

WASTEWATER A MIXED BAG

While wastewater surveillance had been pointing in the direction of declining transmission in recent weeks, the latest report from the BCCDC offers mixed signals. 

Two facilities – Annacis Island and Iona Island – have seen viral loads decrease steadily for three weeks, according to the BCCDC.

The other three, however, have seen increasing trends, described in the latest "situation report" as follows:

  • Viral loads at Northwest Largely plant are variable week-over-week but have increased for one week.
  • Viral loads at Lulu Island are variable week-over-week but are elevated and have increased for two weeks.
  • Viral loads at Lions Gate plant are variable week-over-week but have increased for the past two weeks.

VACCINATION DATA

The province administered 46,687 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines during the week of May 8 to 14, for an average of roughly 6,600 per day.

The vast majority of those – some 35,301 – were fourth doses. Only 1,566 were first doses.

As of May 14, 91 per cent of B.C. residents ages five and older had received at least one shot, 88 per cent had received two and 55 per cent had received three.

Fourth doses are currently only being offered in British Columbia to people ages 70 and older, Indigenous residents age 55 and older, people living in long-term care homes, and those considered extremely clinically vulnerable to severe infection.

Eleven per cent of B.C. residents ages 70 and older have received a fourth shot, according to the BCCDC.