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B.C. COVID-19 hospitalizations fall amid period of 'relative ease'

Health experts still warn of possible summer and fall COVID-19 waves.
The B.C. government is reporting 540 people in hospital with COVID-19; of those, 49 are in ICU.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in B.C. are once again on the decline, according to the latest weekly update from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).

The data, released May 19, shows the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 dropped to 540 across the province, down nine per cent or 56 patients from the previous week. Of those, patients in critical care have also fallen to 49 from 54 last week.

Last week's hospitalizations marked a high point not seen since Feb. 25, when the Omicron variant pushed 599 people into acute care. 

The drop in cases, hospitalizations and even wastewater data indicate the second Omicron wave — one dominated by the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant — is on the decline, reported the independent B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group.

“The BA.2 wave appears to have peaked or is near its peak in B.C. and across Canada,” wrote the group May 18.

Evidence of that decline can be seen in all provinces across the country as COVID-19 seven-day moving averages decline from coast to coast (Canada’s three territories have seen slight upticks in their case count).

The number of new deaths due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus tend to lag behind hospitalizations. In B.C., they also now follow a delayed reporting period. The most up-to-date data shows 59 people died in the week ending May 14, a slight uptick from the first week of May. 

All deaths are counted if the person tested positive for the virus in the past 30 days, and then died — a calculation that would include car accidents.  

The discrepancy will be corrected with B.C.’s Vital Statistics Agency at a later date, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in April when the province shifted the way it counts COVID-19 deaths.

While reported new cases of COVID-19 have been an inaccurate measure of the pandemic’s progression since the Omicron variant hit in December, BCCDC data nonetheless shows a downward trend in recent weeks. 

Between the last week of April and the first week of May, new weekly cases have fallen by nearly a third.

Over that same period, health authorities carried out 24,000 and 27,000 tests a week, with a per cent positivity that has continued to fall throughout May.

The second Omicron wave (or sixth since the start of the pandemic) led to roughly half the number of cases that hit B.C. during the initial wave of the variant in January and February.

Sally Otto, a UBC evolutionary biologist and mathematical modeller who also works with the modelling group, said she wouldn’t count on a summer free of a COVID-19 wave. 

Last week, Henry said B.C. can expect to go into a period of “relative ease” for the next little while. But that won’t last, she added.

“We need to be prepared that we’re going to see a surge in the fall,” said Henry.

Otto says she’s hopeful too, but warns of a number of Omicron sub-variants circulating around the globe — such as BA.2.21 and BA.2.12.1 spreading in Canada and the United States, as well BA.4 and BA.5 driving spikes in South Africa.

We have to be prepared, said Otto, “there’s a possibility that we’re going to get a more transmittable, uglier version.”

With files from Glen Korstrom and Cindy E. Harnett