How will COVID-19 treatments be used? B.C. health officials look to hospitalizations to decide

The province's top doctor is giving the public a better idea of what a previously promised "deep dive" into COVID-19 hospitalizations will entail.

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Dr. Bonnie Henry provided more information on what is being examined.

She said this information will be used not only to guide the province's COVID-19 testing strategy, but also who will qualify for the treatments becoming available in the province.

The study has been underway for weeks, and so far has involved the analysis of more than 600 cases of people who were hospitalized and confirmed to have the disease.

During that period, the hospitalization rate of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in B.C. was 1.2 per cent, she said. A team looked at why that small percentage of people required hospitalization, including whether they had underlying conditions or there were other factors involved.

WHAT WAS STUDIED

This latest examination began as cases of the Omicron variant spread through the province, meaning those involved were looking at a much lower rate of hospitalization than during B.C.'s Delta wave, Henry said.

The focus of the latest analysis is what puts someone at greater risk of hospitalization now, though she said the trends are similar to those seen throughout the pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, age is the single-most significant risk factor. People aged 80 and older are nearly 30 times more likely to need treatment in hospital if they get infected, she said.

Increases are also noted after age 70, and in people with immune-compromising conditions.

People who are pregnant are also more at risk for having more severe illness.

Henry said vaccination continues to be a significant factor when it comes to risk reduction, saying those who've had their shots, plus a booster, are nine times less likely to end up in hospital.

"Those people right now who are most at risk, who are most likely to end up in hospital if you get infected with COVID, are people who do not have any vaccines," Henry said.

She said the risk of young and healthy people, who have the vaccine, ending up in hospital is less than one per cent.

The risk for younger people who haven't been vaccinated goes up "dramatically," she said, "particularly if you have any of the underlying at-risk conditions that make it more likely."

USING THE DATA

She said the data being collected is being used to guide officials as they look for what they can do to prevent hospitalizations and severe illness.

"As we know, this is a rapidly evolving situation in the province, and I know that when public health guidance changes, the changes raise a lot of questions and concerns," Henry said.

She noted changes in testing and other guidance that have prompted criticism, but rather than getting into her reasoning again, she said she wanted to "go back to the basic principles."

"The Omicron variant is different, so we have adapted how we manage the situation," she said.

Most people don't need testing, as most people being tested don't actually have it, she said. While B.C. has its highest test-positivity rate seen in the course of the pandemic, that still means 70 per cent or so don't have it, and that's only of those sick enough to qualify for testing.

Testing now only makes sense for those eligible for treatment, she suggested. Earlier this week, Henry said that group will be those over the age of 70, considered clinically extremely vulnerable or immune compromised, and young people who don't yet have the protection of vaccines.

It's a list similar to the groups mentioned in the overview of the hospitalizations study.

Prevention measures are still needed, Henry said, but vaccinations – such as those used for measles – are among those interventions.

Contact tracing, on the other hand, is no longer effective, she said.

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