The arrival of the Omicron variant in B.C. has coincided with a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 patients being hospitalized.
On January 10, the B.C. government reported that there were 82 more people in hospital because of the virus compared to three days earlier.
That amounts to a 23.5 percent increase.
Of the 431 people in B.C. hospitals because of COVID-19 on January 10, 95 are in intensive care. The ICU caseload increase was far smaller: only two more were in these wards on January 10 compared to January 7.
Over the three-day period, seven new COVID-19 deaths were reported. That brings B.C.'s total fatalities due to COVID-19 since last March to 2,446.
B.C.'s official number of active cases is at 34,551. Fraser Health has the highest total at 15,491, followed by Vancouver Coastal Health (9,996), Interior Health (4,102), Island Health (3,821), and Northern Health (1,139).
On January 10, the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister Adrian Dix answered questions in a "town hall" on Global B.C. The link is available here.
Henry acknowledged in the broadcast that B.C. can only do about 20,000 PCR tests per day, which means that many cases are not being officially recorded.
"The one thing that we have on our side is that we have a lot of people vaccinated in B.C., which means for most people, it's going to be a very mild illness," she said.
Omicron growth breaches testing-capacity limits
On January 6, the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group reported that Omicron cases were growing at 21 to 26 percent per day prior to Christmas, doubling every three to 3.6 days.
"Testing capacity limits have now been breached in BC, with the province prioritizing use of PCR tests for those 'people 65 years and older, as well as those with underlying medical conditions'," it stated in its report. "While rapid antigen testing expands capacity, results are not available publicly. We call on BC to share this information."
The independent group—comprised of mathematicians, epidemiology experts, and data analysts—stated that the Omicron variant case growth can be slowed by "getting vaccinated, wearing tight fitting masks, improving ventilation, avoiding large indoor gatherings, and improving rapid testing and isolation".
A study in South Africa found that hospitalization rates fell from 16.6 percent of all cases in previous waves to 4.9 percent with the Omicron variant. The vaccination rate is far lower in South Africa than in B.C.
In the U.K., the group reported, a study showed that people who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 74 percent less likely to be hospitalized with the Omicron variant than with the Delta variant. The rate was far lower—only 24 percent—for the unvaccinated.