The sharp rise in COVID-19 infections since the Omicron wave began late last year has overcome B.C.’s testing and contact tracing resources, skewed the closely watched hospitalization rates, and altered isolation rules to the point where active cases can no longer be tracked accurately.
As a result, B.C.’s health ministry is ending its daily reporting of active cases and people who have left isolation, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday. The dominance of Omicron has also widened the gap between the daily new cases confirmed by testing and the actual number of new infections that may be four or five times as many on a given day.
“As you know, we’ve changed our testing strategy to focus on those people who need a test because it affects their health management or it’s important for them in terms of returning to work,” Henry said at a weekly briefing Feb. 9. “And because of that, a couple of the metrics that we have been reporting on daily, particularly the ones about active cases and people who have been removed from isolation, are no longer accurate. And they’re no longer an accurate reflection of what’s happening in the community.”
The change took effect Thursday, as the province reported another 1,318 new confirmed cases in the 24 hours up to Feb. 10, and 867 people in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19 infections, 138 of them in intensive care. Five more deaths were attributed to COVID-19.
Data on hospital patients released Feb 1 showed that more than 40 per cent of B.C. patients testing positive for COVID-19 after admission to hospital since Dec. 1 were admitted for other conditions and had either mild or no respiratory symptoms. For cases where Omicron is identified as the infection variant, the tests show 60 per cent of hospital admissions are for reasons other than COVID-19 during December and January.
“So it’s not COVID that’s driving them into hospital,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a briefing from Vancouver Feb. 1.
The daily case reports have been a staple of media coverage for two years, focused on new cases and infected people in hospital. They were considered a valid measure of the progress of the pandemic during the Delta wave, which caused severe illness in a larger portion of those infected. Henry has noted that while Omicron is generally less severe, particularly for people with three doses of vaccine, the sheer number of infected people translates into continued pressure on the hospital system for those who do develop pneumonia-like illness.