British Columbia’s health minister says the province’s hospital capacity remains strong despite a significant rise of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 over the weekend.
There are currently 133 people in hospital across B.C., with 43 in critical or intensive care, up from 100 in hospital and 31 in critical care on Friday.
These numbers are nearing the highest seen since the pandemic’s first wave in B.C., when hospitalizations peaked at 149 with 68 in critical care on April 2.
Across the province, there are 375 vacant critical-care beds ready to be mobilized for COVID-19 patients, said Health Minister Adrian Dix.
Since Saturday, there have also been five new deaths and 998 new cases identified, of which 737 cases are in the Fraser Health region and 210 are in Vancouver Coastal Health.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says these numbers reflect transmission from one week to 10 days ago, and the effects of her recent orders to limit social gatherings, travel and indoor exercise in the Lower Mainland won’t be seen until next week at the earliest.
“This is still a challenging situation and [the numbers explain] in part why Dr. Henry took the actions that she did on Saturday,” said Dix. “While these new orders are not what we want... after all we’ve been through, we need to move fast.”
News of promising results from one of the vaccines on order from the Canadian government also offers hope for another method to protect the most vulnerable to serious illness in B.C., Henry said.
On Monday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced preliminary results in clinical Phase 3 trials to suggest the vaccine could be 90 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19.
Ottawa has already pre-ordered 20 million doses, enough to vaccinate 10 million people with the required two doses each. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he expects the doses to arrive in the early months of 2021, after which distribution could begin.
“Ninety per cent [efficacy] is really good,” said Henry. “We know if we get at least 50 or 60 per cent prevention, that is going to make a major difference.”
Henry has said many times that a vaccine is not a silver bullet, but that it will be another tool to prevent spread of the virus to the most vulnerable in B.C. “We can give it to people who are more likely to have serious illness,” she said.
During the last surge, B.C. had halted all elective and non-urgent surgeries in the province to free-up hospital capacity.
But since the surgical renewal strategy was introduced in May, these procedures have slowly resumed. From Oct. 26 to Nov. 1, B.C. performed 6,894 surgeries, which Dix said was more than the same week last year.
Now, reducing transmission in communities is an essential part of protecting hospital capacity so these surgeries can continue with ample room for COVID-19 patients and other urgent situations.
And Henry says stopping physical gatherings, wearing masks and physically distancing in everyday life are the best tools available at the moment to do that.
“The purpose of these orders is to break these chains of transmission,” said Henry. “Early in 2021 we should have a vaccine to add to our tools.”
Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee