B.C.'s COVID-19 ICU patient count hits 16-week high

New presumed COVID-19 deaths in the province declined to 21, from 30 one week ago

Many COVID-19 patients have been treated at Vancouver General Hospital | Photo: Chung Chow

Serious COVID-19 infections spiked in B.C. in the past week, with 37 people now sick enough to be in intensive care units (ICUs), according to provincial data released this afternoon. 

That is the highest number of COVID-19 patients in B.C. ICUs since Aug. 4, when there were 38. The peak number of COVID-19 patients in B.C. ICUs was 178 on April 29, 2021.

The number of those infected with COVID-19 in B.C. hospitals as a whole stayed flat at 328, as of today. The peak for COVID-19 hospitalizations in B.C. was on Jan. 31, when 1,048 such people were taking up hospital beds. The province has 11,582 total hospital beds, including what it calls surge beds, which can strain the system because they require additional resources.   

B.C.'s count for COVID-19 hospital patients includes those who are in hospital for non-COVID-19 reasons, and who just happened to test positive for COVID-19. B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said earlier this year that about half of the hospital patients then counted as having COVID-19 were these "incidental" cases. She has said that incidental cases of COVID-19 are far less prominent among those who are in ICUs.

High numbers of COVID-19-infected people in ICU is concerning as it could lead to more deaths. 

The number of those in B.C. who died from COVID-19 in the week that ended Nov. 19 dropped to 21, from 30 in the previous week. 

The province's methodology for calculating COVID-19 deaths is seen as unreliable because it includes everyone who has died after having officially tested positive for COVID-19 within the past month – a process that could include people who die in car accidents. The province also starts its countdown for that 30-day window when a person first tests positive for COVID-19, and it does not reset that clock for subsequent detected infections. 

Henry said in April, when she introduced this new counting methodology, that the province's Vital Statistics Agency would later determine that some deaths were not due to COVID-19, and that it would remove those deaths from the province's overall death toll. That process would mean that the overall COVID-19 death toll would be rising by less than the number of new weekly deaths – the opposite of what is happening.

The province's count for total COVID-19 deaths in B.C., since the first one was officially announced on March 9, 2020, is now 4,642, or 35 more than one week ago despite only 21 new deaths being recorded.

Glacier Media has asked B.C.'s Ministry of Health about the continuing disparity but it has not been able to explain why this keeps happening. It has said that data "may be incomplete."

B.C.'s data for new infections is largely seen as inaccurate because most people who contract COVID-19 do not contact B.C. health authorities. Henry late last year told vaccinated people who have mild COVID-19 symptoms to simply self-isolate and not get tested. Her intent was to free up staff time at testing centres, which then endured hours-long line-ups.

Official COVID-19 testing in B.C. is also a shadow of what it once was. There were 6,637 official tests in the week ended Nov. 19. Two months ago, there were more than 15,000 official tests per week. In April, there were around 29,000 official tests per week. Last year in November, there were around 57,000 official tests per week.

Nonetheless, B.C. recorded 498 new COVID-19 infections – up 11 from the 487 new cases discovered one week ago – for a total of 389,479 since the first one was detected in late January 2020. 

Data discrepancies have been consistent in the government data. 

Despite 498 newly recorded infections, the province hiked its number for total infections so far in the pandemic by 495.

The province no longer reports how many seniors' care homes have active outbreaks. •