More COVID-19 restrictions and booster shots possible in Northern Health as cases spread

Health officials are looking at implementing more COVID-19 measures, including possible restrictions or booster vaccine doses, as cases in B.C.'s Northern Health region continue to surge.

The announcement came Tuesday during a news conference with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix.

“We are actively working with (our) Northern Health colleagues to determine what additional measures we need to break the chains of transmission across many communities for everyone,” Henry said.

“My public health colleagues are very concerned with what we continue to see in many communities across the north,” she said.

On a per-capita basis, Northern Health continues to have the highest rate of infection in the province by a wide margin. As a result, there are already regional health measures in place, but more may be needed, Henry said.

“COVID-19 is spreading at a higher than average rate, people are becoming severely ill, even young people – mostly unvaccinated young people – and hospitals are pushed to the limit across the north.”

Consideration is also being given to booster shots for certain communities. So far, only seniors in long-term care homes and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable have been offered a third dose of the vaccines.

“We're also looking at whether we need to use three doses in certain communities as a way to manage some of the severe illness, and the outbreaks that we are seeing,” Henry said.

Infection rates in Northern Health are so high that hospitals are over capacity. So far 55 patients have been transferred to hospitals in other health authorities, Dix said.

Forty-three of those 55 patients are COVID-19 patients, and 42 of them aren’t fully vaccinated, Dix explained.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, four were transferred out, on Saturday five were transferred, one person on Sunday and four people on Monday.

There are currently 63 critical care beds in the north, Dix said, 23 of which are surge beds that have been added to help deal with COVID-19 cases. But even then, it’s not enough to meet the demand for ICU beds in the region.

“Over this Thanksgiving weekend 14 patients (were) flown from communities in the north, hundreds and hundreds of kilometers,” he said.

Dix thanked health-care workers for their efforts on the transfers, and said the province also added two additional planes to the BC Emergency Health Services fleet to help with the transfers by partnering with private sector companies.

“That's how they dealt with their Thanksgiving,” he said.