B.C. health officials say 534 people are now in hospital with COVID-19 — more than at any other time during the pandemic — with 102 in intensive care, as the province reported seven more deaths from the disease and 2,554 new cases on Thursday.
The new numbers represent an increase of 34 COVID-19 patients hospitalized within the last 24 hours, although the number of patients in the ICU is the same as yesterday.
The previous high for hospitalizations was on April 28, 2021 when 515 people were in hospital at the peak of the third wave.
Overall hospitalizations, which typically lag behind spikes and dips in new cases, are up 65 per cent from last Thursday, when 324 people were in hospital with the disease and up by 189 per cent from a month ago when 185 people were in hospital.
The number of patients in intensive care is up by about 13 per cent from 90 a week ago and up by 42 per cent from a month ago when 72 people were in the ICU.
Experts say hospitalizations are a more accurate barometer of the disease's impact, as new case numbers in B.C. are likely much higher than reported, now that the province has hit its testing limit because of the Omicron surge.
As of Jan. 11, 23.1 per cent of COVID-19 tests in B.C. are coming back positive, according to the province's COVID-19 dashboard.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that anything above a five per cent test- positivity rate indicates a concerning level of community transmission.
There are currently 36,049 recorded active cases of people infected with the novel coronavirus in B.C.
The provincial death toll from COVID-19 is now 2,462 lives lost out of 291,246 confirmed cases to date.
There is a total of 53 active outbreaks in assisted living, long-term, and acute care facilities.
As of Thursday, 88.9 per cent of those five and older in B.C. had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 83.3 per cent a second dose.
From Jan. 5 to Jan. 11, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 21 per cent of cases and from Dec. 29 to Jan. 11, they accounted for 34.5 per cent of hospitalizations, according to the province.
A total of 1.3 million people have received a booster shot to date.
B.C.'s largest provider of medical laboratory services, LifeLabs, has also been forced to close or reduce hours at 16 locations for at least two weeks because of staffing issues related to the variant.
On Wednesday, LifeLabs shuttered 11 locations: eight in the Lower Mainland, two in Victoria and one in Kamloops. Another three locations in the Lower Mainland and two in Victoria have announced reduced hours of operation.
The closures are a worrying development in an already maxed out health-care system experiencing staff shortages in every sector.
"It just means that there's going to be more stress now on our acute care services and more stress on the people who need health care urgently now. They're the ones who are going to suffer," said family physician Dr. Karina Zeidler.
Read more here for a list of impacted labs and for additional information on LifeLab closures.