B.C. activates emergency operations centres at 20 hospitals, anticipating spike in respiratory illness

On Monday, the province will reopen 20 hospital emergency operations centres initially set up for COVID-19 to deal with an expected surge in flu, respiratory illness and COVID cases. (Christian Amundson/CBC - image credit)
On Monday, the province will reopen 20 hospital emergency operations centres initially set up for COVID-19 to deal with an expected surge in flu, respiratory illness and COVID cases. (Christian Amundson/CBC - image credit)

Starting Monday, Jan. 9, the province will reactivate 20 hospital emergency operations centres previously set up for COVID-19 to deal with an expected surge in flu, respiratory illness and COVID-19 cases.

During a news conference on Friday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the demand for hospital care is high; more than 10,000 people were in acute care in B.C. as of Thursday. That's up six per cent compared to New Year's Eve, according to The Canadian Press.

COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza are to blame for the high number of people in hospital, Dix said.

In recent weeks, there have been between 350 and 400 people in hospital with COVID-19 in the province.

"People are now accessing care after the holidays," he said.

"More people are sick right now."

Dix said January is usually a period of "constant demand'' as illnesses spread during the holiday period in December and surgeries resume in the new year, but resources are already stretched thin.

"We're really busy right now, we expect the next six weeks to be really busy," Dix told CBC's On The Coast.

He said the number of people accessing emergency care has remained relatively stable, but admissions to hospital are increasing.

Activating the centres will ensure people who require hospital care get it, Dix said.

"There'll be a daily focus on ensuring that there's adequate space to welcome new patients into the hospital."

CBC News
CBC News

The goal is for non-urgent, scheduled surgeries to go forward as planned, he added.

Staff at the centres will help patients who are ready to be discharged in an attempt to reduce overall hospital occupancy and ensure emergency departments have patient care beds available.

The emergency operations centres will operate at B.C.'s 20 busiest hospitals, including:

  • Abbotsford Regional.

  • Royal Columbian.

  • Surrey Memorial.

  • B.C. Children's.

  • Lions Gate.

  • Richmond.

  • St. Paul's.

  • Vancouver General.

  • Nanaimo Regional General.

  • Royal Jubilee.

  • Victoria General.

  • East Kootenay Regional.

  • Kelowna General.

  • Kootenay Boundary Regional.

  • Penticton Regional.

  • Royal Inland.

  • Vernon Jubilee.

  • Fort St. John & Peace Villa.

  • Mills Memorial.

  • University Hospital of Northern B.C.

The centres will be in place for at least six weeks, and leadership teams will review hospital bed availability and identify solutions to ease emergency department congestion.

Masks encouraged

Despite an anticipated increase in respiratory illness and increased hospitalizations, health officials have not brought back a mask mandate in the province.

According to the province's website, masks are encouraged but not required.

Earlier this week, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said people should continue wearing masks when appropriate.

"If I'm the only one on the bus and the windows are open, and I'm feeling perfectly fine, then no, I probably wouldn't," she said.

"If the bus is crowded, or somebody at home is sick, or I'm finished at the end of a cold, and I'm no longer infectious, I wear a mask."

When the mask mandate was introduced in November 2020, there were 217 patients in hospital with COVID-19, 59 of whom were in intensive care. This was before COVID-19 vaccines were available. Now, more than 83 per cent of British Columbians have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. An estimated 32 per cent have four doses of vaccine.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

On Thursday, the province reported 356 hospitalizations for the virus and 25 people in critical care. That doesn't account for the number of people requiring hospital care for other respiratory illnesses.

Health officials are urging British Columbians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza and to stay home when they're sick.

Omicron subvariant

A new, likely more transmissible subvariant of Omicron is in B.C. On Tuesday, Henry confirmed at least five cases have been identified in the province, and she expects there will be more.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Brian Conway said this new variant will soon "dominate" the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It is binding to cells more easily," he said, adding that XBB 1.5 attaches higher up in the airway than earlier versions of the COVID-19 virus.

"COVID's not going away. There will be new variants. These are the measures we're going to need to take long term."