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B.C. releases first weekly COVID-19 update, with new definition of hospitalizations

Nurses close the curtains of a patients room in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey, B.C., Friday, June 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward Nurses close the curtains of a patients room in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey, B.C., Friday, June 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
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The weekly COVID-19 updates provided by the B.C. government contain different data on hospitalizations, which could complicate comparisons between past and future waves.

The new updates are being released every Thursday, with data covering the preceding full week from Sunday to Saturday, making the information several days old by the time it's shared with the public. Previously, the Ministry of Health released data every weekday.

That delay shouldn't be a problem for independent researchers at the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, according to member Dr. Sarah Otto, who noted that trends are generally mapped over several weeks.

"The models are not going to be that affected only having data by the week rather than the day," she told CTV News.

Otto said she's more concerned about changes to the way COVID-19 hospitalizations are reported.

The weekly updates include a count of anyone who was admitted to hospital with COVID-19 or had "any hospitalization episodes" within 14 days of testing positive, except those who were discharged on the same day.

The province's discontinued daily updates included the total number of patients in hospital with COVID-19.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said there would "likely be a one-time increase in the number of cases ever hospitalized" as a result of the change, as well as an increase in the number of patients ever admitted to critical care.

Any significant change in tracking could make it challenging to directly compare the next wave of Omicron infections to the first, Otto said.

"I'd really like to see how the hospitalization count differs between the old and new definition, just so we have some sense of how big a change is coming," she added.

Asked for more clarification on the differences between the two reporting systems, the ministry told CTV News the new data "continues to reflect COVID hospital admissions and is intended to show severity of the disease in the B.C. population."

Counts of the total number of patients in hospital will still be provided through the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website, the ministry noted, though only once per week.

Even with the admission data provided in the province's weekly updates, Otto noted that researchers and the public still don't have access to the daily breakdowns of hospital admissions, with corrections, which the COVID-19 Modelling Group has been requesting from the government.

Otto said hospitalization numbers are often corrected after the fact, as better information is gathered from hospitals, but modellers have never been able to view that fixed data.

"If we could get that corrected hospital admission data by day, that will make our statistical analysis more powerful. We'll be able to better detect trends," she said.

There were 193 people admitted to hospital during the week ending on April 2, according to the first weekly updated released Thurdsay.

There were also 1,706 cases and 11 deaths reported in the week ending on April 2, though those numbers also come with new caveats.

Case numbers no longer include people who live outside the province, while death counts now include anyone who died within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 test, at least until their cause of death can be confirmed through Vital Statistics, a process that takes about eight weeks.

Critics have slammed the government for decreasing the frequency at which COVID-19 information is released to the public, particularly at a time when the Omicron subvariant BA.2 is fuelling increases in transmission and hospitalizations in many places, including British Columbia.

"This government is desperate to maintain its narrative around its management of this pandemic, and is doing so by limiting testing, monitoring, and reporting. They have closed down community monitoring at the beginning of a sixth wave," B.C. Green leader Sonia Furstenau said in a statement this week.

"It is not an impossible task for this government to provide clear guidance to the public on what level of risk they are at." 

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