Officials in B.C. say current restrictions on gathering and events across the province aren't likely to change for now, with the current wave of the pandemic expected to drag on "for the next few weeks."
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday the province might soon start seeing a decline in cases, but not enough to ease concerns about pressure on the health-care system and wider workforce.
"We're getting the sense that we are levelling off somewhat [with cases] ... But right now, the primary focus needs to be keeping as much as possible open in our communities," she said Tuesday during a news conference.
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province is going to provide its next round of case modelling on Friday, which will provide an estimate on the number of COVID-19 cases B.C. could see in the coming weeks.
The current set of public health restrictions on gatherings is set to expire on Jan. 18.
Hospitalizations rising in B.C.
The province said 469 people were in hospital with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including 97 in intensive care. Officials reported 2,239 new cases over 24 hours.
The new numbers also confirmed 38 more patients have gone to hospital within the last 24 hours.
Henry said three people in their 20s and another in their 30s are currently among those in intensive care, and all of them are unvaccinated.
"That is a preventable illness. It creates a lot of distress for our health-care workers to be caring for young people and seeing them in so much distress when it can be prevented," she said.
"This wave is moving quickly and it means you need to do everything to protect yourself right now."
Watch | Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. isn't planning to make vaccinations mandatory:
Henry said Tuesday many people who have contracted the Omicron variant are fully vaccinated but their illness has been relatively mild compared with those who are unvaccinated and at higher risk of being hospitalized.
Overall hospitalizations, which typically lag behind spikes and dips in new cases are up by 57.3 per cent since last Tuesday, when 298 people were in hospital with the disease.
Hospitalizations have more than doubled compared to a month ago, when 211 people were in hospital.
Experts now 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.
COVID-19 in B.C. by the numbers
Henry anticipated a number of additional treatment options would be available later this month to keep people who are at risk of serious illness out of hospital.
Health Canada signed an agreement with Pfizer last December to provide an initial one million doses of its COVID-19 antiviral pill, but the agency has not yet approved its use. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency-use authorization of the five-day regimen last month, and the medication has since been in short supply.
Henry also said she expects this wave, driven by Omicron, will peak and pass faster than previous waves.
"We tend to see this with any pathogen that has a shorter incubation period. You see this rapidly explosive growth and you also see a rapid decrease once a certain level has been reached in the population," she said.
"So — just from our prior experience — we would expect this to be a shorter wave," she said.
She pointed to case plateaus happening in other countries, like the U.K. and Denmark, as reasons to believe B.C.'s pandemic is levelling off.