B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province is increasing hospital capacity in anticipation of increased demand due to the record-breaking fifth wave of COVID-19.
The province recorded 2,944 cases on Wednesday, the highest ever number of daily cases, with the rolling average up significantly over the past two weeks by nearly 15 per cent due to the more infectious Omicron variant.
Hospitalizations, however, have not yet increased at the same pace, with an independent modelling group predicting peak hospital demand in the middle of January.
Dix said the province has a total hospital bed capacity of 11,582 — with 9,229 base beds and 2,353 surge capacity. Nearly 75 per cent of those beds are occupied, Dix said, with 8,669 patients requiring acute care.
"[The number of patients] is significantly less than what it was three or four weeks ago," he said. "Our challenge is to ensure that we have sufficient capacity to deal with COVID-19 patients."
Dix said about 57 per cent of the province's critical care beds are now occupied as well, with 420 patients in the ICU out of a capacity of 728.
"We are making adjustments and creating capacity for an expected increase in acute care and critical care patients," he said.
Dix made the announcements at the first news conference since Christmas Eve. Officials also announced on Wednesday that an in-person return to K-12 schools would be delayed by a week for most students.
Age-based booster campaign to continue
At the news conference, health officials announced that B.C. would continue to roll out third doses based on age and clinical vulnerability after criticism that the province was not prioritizing teachers for booster shots.
Dix said the province had administered 128,000 more booster shots than original forecasts as part of an "accelerated" booster campaign, with all those above the age of 60 to receive invitations to book third doses by the end of the week.
Most people are eligible for a booster dose six months after their second shot, according to the province, with certain clinically vulnerable groups including Indigenous people being provided a dose five months after their second shot.
More than 50 per cent of Indigenous people in B.C. had received their third dose, according to Dix, and he said 240,000 eligible people in B.C. had not yet booked their third shot.
"Getting your booster helps you, helps those around you, and protects health-care workers," he said.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is continuing to focus on the age-based strategy to target those at higher risk of infection.
Henry also said the province was starting to see absenteeism from health-care workers due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, and might soon adjust self-isolation times for those who have symptoms of COVID-19.
Currently, those who who are fully vaccinated, are not immunocompromised and have mild symptoms, should self-isolate for a week if they receive a positive COVID-19 test according to the province. Those who are not fully vaccinated should self-isolate for 10 days.
"[The self-isolation rules] are another part ... that helps preserve our workforces in those different essential settings," she said. "This is certainly something I'll have more to say on very soon."