VANCOUVER -- A new modelling system released by B.C.'s health officials not only showcases the trajectory of COVID-19 in the province, but how authorities are preparing to care for patients as needed.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Stephen Brown, deputy minister of health, presented the modelling's estimates Thursday morning.

According to the modelling system, B.C.'s rate of growth in positive cases in the province is actually lower than originally expected. 

At first, health officials tracked the daily number of cases increasing by 24 per cent. But after physical distancing and travel restrictions were put in place, the average daily increase in cases has dipped to 12 per cent. 

In other words, Henry said B.C.'s rate of growth is being "positively impacted" by the public health measures that have been put in place in recent weeks. 

Henry said she's only "cautiously optimistic" about B.C.'s trajectory and says the province has not yet flattened its curve. 

"We are not out of the woods by any means yet," she said, adding that the number of cases is being closely monitored daily. 

Henry added the effects of strict physical distancing measures are still yet to be seen because the virus has an incubation period of up to two weeks. 

"These were quite dramatic measures and it took a bit of time for them to sink in," she said.

"What I would like to see is flattening (of the curve) at least...but I'm recognizing that we're still seeing ongoing transmission in our community."

Even with that cautious optimism, Henry said this isn't the time to ease off on restrictions. 

"I hope that this is motivation for people to double down on what we're doing," she said. 

"We've looked at other places where they've eased off on the measures and we've started to see increases again.

"So we are, right now, in the middle of our pandemic and our pandemic is going to be different from everybody else's. But this is our critical time. The next two weeks are our critical time." 

Health officials prepare for increase in cases

As well, the new modelling system compares B.C's growth rate with two other areas: Hubei province in China and Northern Italy. The modelling looks at those two regions' situations and applies a similar scenario to B.C. to understand the requirements the province could face.

With that, provincial health officials have outlined what the province's plans are if cases should dramatically increase here. 

For example, health authorities have identified 17 hospitals that would be used as primary care sites for COVID-19. All hospitals are ready to be used as needed, however. 

Additionally, if needed, BC Children's Hospital would be used to treat any children with severe cases of the novel coronavirus. 

In total, B.C. has 705 ventilator-capable hospital beds. But that doesn't take into account other ventilators in non-critical care, so in fact the province's total number of available ventilators is over 1,200. 

As well, B.C. currently has a capacity of 5,610 hospital beds – excluding those in maternity, pediatrics, mental health, rehabilitation and palliative care. 

Based on that capacity and projections, health officials say that if B.C. was to face a similar scenario to the one seen in Hubei, ICU and ventilator capacity would be sufficient in the 17 primary COVID-19 care sites. 

However, if B.C. had a virus case trajectory that was more like Northern Italy's, B.C. would have to use all of its sites to meet bed demand and would need to increase patient transportation between sites. 

As well, in an extreme situation, if B.C. was to see a hospitalization rate – not just a virus rate – similar to Northern Italy's, B.C. would need to use all sites and move patients in hospital for less acute medical and surgical care to an off-site location. This would be to open capacity for COVID-19 patients to give them quick access to critical care.

But Brown said planning for that "worst case scenario" is "out of an abundance of caution."

"For planning purposes, we've stress-tested our system … so that rather than being taken by surprise, we are well-prepared for almost the most worst of outcomes that we've seen in any jurisdiction," Brown said. 

Work on the modelling was completed by a province-wide group of 20 medical directors and clinical specials, alongside an epidemic modelling team from the BCCDC and a team from the Provincial Health Services Authority.  

An American Sign Language translation of today's news conference is available on the province's Facebook page

The province's full slide show about its modelling system is below: