Omicron helps new COVID-19 infections in B.C. soar

B.C.'s known number of Omicron cases more than doubled, to 302 cases, in the past day

b henry december 17
Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry spoke to media earlier today | B.C. government

The spike in new COVID-19 infections across B.C. is continuing, with health officials detecting 789 cases in the past day. 

That is the most infections in a 24-hour period since September 29, and it raises the number of active infections in the province to 4,313 – the most since November 10. B.C.'s positive-test rate, at 4.72%, is the highest that it has been in weeks.

It can take a while for higher new case counts to translate into more people in hospitals, and intensive care units (ICUs,) and those counts are not yet soaring. 

There are 191 COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals, which is seven more than yesterday, but about half of the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals one month ago. Of those now in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19, 74 are in ICUs. 

Another three people lost their lives to complications related to COVID-19 in the past day, raising the province's pandemic death toll to 2,399.

The rise in new COVID-19 cases in BC. comes as the Omicron variant is rapidly spreading. 

It remains unknown how much the Omicron variant is able to cause illness among vaccinated people, but the variant's fast spread is what officials around the world have called alarming.

The number of known Omicron cases in B.C. has more than doubled in the past day, to 302.

B.C. health officials detected the province's first case of the Omicron variant on November 30. Announcements were then made that the province had:
• five cases on December 7;
• 10 cases on December 10;
• 44 cases on December 12;  and
• 135 cases yesterday (December 16.)

B.C.'s 302 known Omicron cases include:
• 58 in Fraser Health;
• 93 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
• five in Interior Health;
• one in Northern Health; 
• 145 in Island Health.

The government did not say how many of those Omicron infections were active, or how many people infected with Omicron are deemed recovered.

The B.C. government usually considers COVID-19 patients to have recovered if they have gone 10 days following first feeling symptoms, as they are therefore deemed to no longer be infectious. Some patients, however, continue to have health problems for months after their recoveries.

B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry today announced a new set of restrictions on personal gatherings and events that will come into effect on December 20, and be in place through the end of January. While restaurants will be able to remain open, New Year's Eve parties and events are cancelled

"The Omicron variant of concern is adding new and more complex challenges to our pandemic, and we are no exception here in B.C.," Henry said, to explain why the new measures were needed. "Omicron is rapidly replacing the other variants here in B.C., primarily [the] Delta [variant.]"

The 4,313 known active infections in B.C. include:
• 1,182 in Fraser Health;
• 688 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
• 239 in Interior Health;
• 239 in Northern Health;
• 975 in Island Health; and
• one person who normally lives outside B.C.

The 789 new infections are also spread out across the province, and include: 
• 186 in Fraser Health;
• 286 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
• 131 in Interior Health;
• 39 in Northern Health; and
• 147 in Island Health.

B.C. is sticking to its schedule to provide third doses of vaccine, or booster doses to immunocompromised people, those older than 70 years who have gone six months after their second dose, healthcare workers, and those who received two AstraZeneca doses of vaccine, and have gone six months since their second dose.

Fully vaccinated people who received one or more doses of a vaccine other than AstraZeneca are not currently being invited to get their jab after six months, but that is likely to soon change. All British Columbians aged 18 years and older are expected to be allowed, in stages, to get booster doses in 2022.

Some provinces have recently said that all residents older than 18 years are eligible to book appointments to get booster doses. 

Henry, however, defended her decision to enable booster doses in a sequential way that prioritizes older people, health-care workers and others who are more vulnerable.

Most people will be eligible to get their booster doses starting very soon. This is because of a timeline based on when most people received their first and second jabs. 

The first doses of vaccine started to be injected into British Columbians' arms in mid-December, 2020. Elderly people, health-care workers and vulnerable people were then prioritized. At that time, recipients were eligible to get their second shots three weeks after getting first jabs.

Henry then changed course, and started mandating that people wait eight weeks after their first dose of vaccine to get their second shot. 

B.C.'s biggest one-day opening of new eligibility was April 19, when Henry lowered the general age of eligibility to those 40 years and older, from what had been 55 years.

Those who were prompt at booking a pharmacy appointment to get an AstraZeneca jab, and then followed that up with a second AstraZeneca jab, are now eligible to get their booster doses.

This is because eight weeks after April 19 would have been June 14, and six months after that day would have been December 14 – three days ago. 

This could be part of the reason why B.C. pharmacists provided a record 26,953 booster jabs yesterday, and a near-record 26,629 booster jabs in the past 24 hours. In total, B.C. has provided 687,413 booster shots.  

There have been 4,332,204 B.C. residents who have had at least one dose of vaccine, while 4,113,484, or just shy of 95% of those, are fully vaccinated with two doses.

The B.C. government estimates that 86.9% of eligible British Columbians, older than five years, have had at least one vaccine shot, while 82.5% of that eligible population is fully vaccinated with two jabs.

The B.C. government last year estimated in that the province's total population is 5,147,712, so Glacier Media's calculation is that almost 84.2% of B.C.'s total population has had at least one dose of vaccine, and more than 79.9% of the province's total population has had two doses. 

Henry said at today's press conference that her message to those not yet vaccinated is "You are at risk. Now is the time to get vaccinated. This virus will find you."

Unvaccinated people have been driving the disease's spread, despite being proportionally a small group.

Between December 9 and December 15, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 42.8% of new cases, and between December 2 and December 15, those individuals accounted for 71.6% of hospitalizations. 

The province yesterday had no active outbreaks at health-care facilities for the first time in months. Unfortunately, streak of no health-care facility outbreaks ended at one day, as there is a new outbreak at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. •