B.C.'s COVID-19 hospitalization total to jump as province changes reporting system

The B.C. government has announced it's moving to a system of "census hospitalization reporting," meaning that every patient in hospital who tests positive for COVID-19 will be included in daily numbers.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new reporting system will result in B.C.'s hospitalization total increasing from Thursday's record high of 534 to upwards of 600.

Census reporting makes no attempt to separate out so-called "incidental" COVID-19 cases, which include patients who are hospitalized for reasons unrelated to the virus but test positive during routine screening, such as those heading into surgery or delivering a baby.

"They're not being hospitalized because of the impact of COVID, either directly or indirectly from exacerbation of other illness," Henry said.

The province described its previous reporting system as "a bit of a composite" of census data and hospitalization line lists from its health authorities. Analyzing those lists to separate out incidental cases takes significant effort, Henry said, and has become increasingly challenging as the Omicron variant resulted in unprecedented transmission in the province.

"It really means we have to do a chart review of every individual case," the provincial health officer said, adding the officials are trying to find a way to automate the process.

The previous system also excluded those who caught COVID-19 in hospital because of an outbreak, and those who live out of province.

While the census system is an "overestimate" of COVID-19's impact on B.C.'s hospitals, Henry said it is the cleanest way of reporting for now. More detailed breakdowns separating hospitalizations caused by severe COVID-19 illness from incidental cases will be published by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on routine basis, possibly weekly.

As part of a modelling presentation on Friday, Henry also presented a breakdown of 56 COVID-19 hospitalizations recorded last month in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 45 per cent of which were incidental.

"This gives us a representative sample of what we might be seeing in other places," she said.

Of the patients who required hospitalization for COVID-19, the majority had the Delta variant. That included 64 per cent of those hospitalized who didn't need critical care, as well as 78 per cent of those who required critical care or died as a result of the disease.

There were no confirmed Omicron cases in the latter group, as the other 22 per cent of patients were not sequenced.

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