B.C.’s provincial health officer said Monday (Dec. 11) COVID-19 cases remain low heading into the holiday season, but cases of influenza are on the rise.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases have also been growing, particularly in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health areas, wastewater monitoring, Dr. Bonnie Henry said as she urged vaccinations.
Henry added influenza and RSV cases will likely peak in the new year, on track with the pre-COVID-19 trend.
“As we go into this (holiday) season, we are starting to see influenza again and influenza-A can cause very severe illness,” Henry said. “It’s never too late (to get vaccinated). Particularly, if you get it this week, you will have the maximum protection as we go into the main part of the holiday season.”
Henry made these comments as she and health minister Adrian Dix spoke to reporters about the latest vaccination numbers. About 1.4 million British Columbians have so far received the influenza vaccine, while just under 1.3 million have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
“These results compare with what we did last year, when obviously there was more intensity around these questions,” he said. “So we are slightly ahead where we were on COVID-19, slightly behind where we were on influenza.”
While COVID cases have declined from the peak in early October, Henry also urged British Columbians to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Henry hedged her bets when asked whether the higher number of vaccinations for influenza compared to COVID-19 represented the new normal and whether she is more worried about influenza than COVID-19.
“Yes and no,” she said. “We still don’t know yet about the seasonality of COVID-19. Interestingly, our decrease really corresponded with the peak of vaccination, when we started our vaccination program, which tells me that we can have an effect on COVID-19. But we know it is still around and we are seeing in other provinces, particularly in areas with low immunization rates, that they are starting to see increases again. In the last two years, we have also seen a peak in the spring.”
She said that COVID-19 is not changing as quickly as it did in the past, which reflects, in part, high levels of immunity.
“I have always been concerned about influenza,” she added, notably focusing on the effects of influenza on young people.
“We usually see people who are highest risk get their vaccines first,” she said. “Younger people may not think about it, but the H1N1 that we are seeing this year, can cause severe illness in children.”
Dix echoed Henry’s appeal to get vaccinated, as the provincial health care system is preparing for its busiest season.
“One reason why it is is a value to get vaccinated is the impact it can have, the support it can have, for our hospitals, as we go through a record period of demand for health care services in B.C.,” Dix said.
While COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped from a peak of 334 (Oct. 1-7) to 116 (Nov. 26 to Dec. 2), other respiratory illnesses are rising on top of existing, significant health care demands, he said.
“That significant demand in health care is reflected in our acute care census,” he said, adding that the province has increased its base bed capacity from to 9,200 to 9,929 beds. “And what we are seeing right now, is that those are beds are fully allocated.”
He added that province also has a significant number of surge beds.
“As of Dec. 7, the number of hospitalizing patients in B.C. was 10,102. The peak this fall is 10,128.”
Dix said the province has taken various steps to respond to these numbers in praising collaboration across the sector.
“I think throughout the system we are better prepared than we have been at any time to deal with these large number of patients, but the fact of matter is that we are facing…in the course of a week, 10,000 patients in our health care system.”
Dix said the system is now preparing for higher numbers in the first part of January, “which is our absolute peak season.”
Current trends put B.C. about 170 hospitalizations ahead of last year’s peak in early January, he added.
“So if that pattern were to be maintained, we would be seeing record number people in hospital and that is why we are taking such significant actions to prepare for that.”