COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry says Omicron creates a different pandemic; province shatters single-day case record

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      B.C.'s provincial health officer offered a Christmas Eve update on the Omicron variant of concern and advice for people on testing and how to deal with a COVID-19 infection.

      According to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Omicron variant is spreading in a way that is very different from previous COVID-19 variants.

      "In a sense, we're in a different game—a different pandemic—now," Henry told reporters.

      The Omicron variant is more highly infectious, she noted, and evidence suggests that it can lead to more breakthrough infections in people who've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But she stated that early indications point to these infections being less severe than what results from the Delta variant.

      "Those are things we're still watching," Henry added. "We also know that people who have had previous infections are much more likely to get reinfected with Omicron."

      She reiterated a comment from earlier this week that everyone was likely to get exposed to the Omicron variant, knowing the way it's spreading. However, Henry said that this does not mean that everyone will get sick.

      "What we are seeing is Omicron is more likely to attach to the upper airways, those ace2 receptors in our upper airways, which means it can spread with very small amounts of the virus," Henry said. "It replicates quickly. And it means those smaller particles, or aerosols, are much more important and it can spread more easily—especially in activities like singing or talking closely with each other indoors where ventilation is poor or breathing hard."

      Whereas it used to take five to seven days on average between exposure and passing it on to others, Henry stated that this time frame is now down to around two to three days.

      "So you can pass it along to others before you even know that you are positive for the virus," Henry said. 

      Omicron is also spreading faster in those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the provincial health officer. That means if people are feeling ill, even if they think it's a mild cold, they need to take precautions. And anyone feeling ill must stay away from those who are vulnerable, including the elderly and the very young.

      It's also made things extremely challenging for provincial employees who track those who've come in contact with infected people.

      "We cannot find contacts within two to three days," Henry acknowledged.

      Moreover, she said that B.C. testing facilities maxxed out at over 20,000 PCR tests on December 23—and it's not possible to exceed that figure.

      "Do not go to a testing centre unless you have symptoms," Henry said. "Then we need to preserve the more accurate PCR testing for those who really need it.

      "The testing centres are not for pre-travel screening, nor do they give you a green light to spend time with others."

      She urged that the testing centres be used by older people and those with underlying conditions. 

      Those who have any symptoms should assume they have COVID-19.

      "If you are younger and vaccinated and have no other risk factors, you don't necessarily need to take a test," Henry added. 

      If the person is vaccinated and has mild symptoms, they should stay home and remain away from other people for seven days.

      "If you are not fully vaccinated and do not have any other underlying risk factors, you must isolate for 10 days," Henry said.

      That's because vaccinations help people manage infections more rapidly. The vaccinated shed shed less of the virus for a shorter period of time than the unvaccinated.

      In addition, Henry emphasized that people with symptoms should notify their close contacts.

      "This means, regrettably, we will need to adjust our holiday plans if we have symptoms right now that could be related to Omicron," Henry said.

      Dr. Bonnie Henry begins speaking at 5:00.

      She also insisted that anyone having difficulty breathing, chest pains, difficulty drinking fluids, and unable to manage with self-care should call 911 for help, 811 for advice, or talk to their health-care provider.

      "While I caution the need to get tested, if you are seriously unwell, please do not hesitate to seek care immediately," Henry said.

      She called on British Columbians to give each other a "booster shot of communal kindness", limit in-person connections, and reaching out virtually to or calling those who are living alone.

      COVID by the numbers

      B.C. recorded another daily record for COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours.

      There are 2,441 new cases, bringing the number of active cases to 10,415. 

      Of those, 192 are in hospital and 71 are in intensive care. There have also been four new deaths, living the provincewide total to 2,414 since March 2020.

      The new/active cases include:

      • 1,001 new cases in Fraser Health
        • Total active cases: 3,554
      • 967 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health
        • Total active cases: 4,571
      • 188 new cases in Interior Health
        • Total active cases: 778
      • 66 new cases in Northern Health
        • Total active cases: 236
      • 219 new cases in Island Health
        • Total active cases: 1,274
      • no new cases of people who reside outside of Canada
        • Total active cases: two

      Of the 1,613 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, 959 are in Vancouver Coastal Health, 347 are in Island Health, and 263 are in Fraser Health.

      There's a new health-care facility outbreak at Ridgeview Lodge in Interior Health along with the ongoing outbreak at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.

      From December 16 to 22, 21.9 percent of all cases were comprised of people who were not fully vaccinated. From December 9 to 22, they accounted for 67.2 percent of all those hospitalized with COVID-19.