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Here's how B.C. is preparing for a possible surge in COVID-19, flu cases this fall


B.C. health officials are making preparations for a possible fall surge in COVID-19 and influenza cases, including discharging current patients to make way for potential new ones.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix spoke live Wednesday afternoon about fall respiratory viruses, particularly COVID-19 and influenza, and their serious concerns the province could be hit with a flood of cases from both at the same time.

"I do believe we are emerging from this pandemic, but a lot of uncertainty remains," Henry said during the news conference. "We're going to see influenza, I have no doubt, and the worst case scenario we might start seeing a surge at the same time that our immunity from our last booster doses of COVID (vaccine) is waning as well, in November and December."

Health officials explained that influenza cases stayed quite low in 2020 and 2021 because of measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. But with restrictions lifted and people spending more time indoors, the flu and other respiratory illnesses are likely to return this year, meaning officials need to make preparations now even though a surge in hospitalizations isn’t a certainty and could be months away.


The Health Ministry explained hospital capacity in the province is around 9,400. That estimate is based not on physical beds, but also on realistic staffing levels.

"Our hospitals are extraordinarily challenged," Dix said, revealing they’re already contemplating worst-case scenarios.

“Service reductions including postponing non-urgent scheduled surgeries could be required.”

Officials said with a rise in Omicron cases, hospitalizations could go up to about 700 additional patients. Currently there are about 350 people in hospital with COVID-19, though the province includes those who are hospitalized for other reasons and test positive for COVID incidentally in that total. It's estimated that 40 to 50 per cent of people in hospital with COVID-19 are there specifically because of the disease, while the rest are there for another reason and happened to test positive.

The "big unknown," officials said, is the impact influenza will have. Projections based on a possible "high" flu season, could see a peak of up to 1,200 additional patients requiring hospitalizations over the coming months.

To prepare for this extra demand, officials said they're looking at reducing current hospitalizations by focusing on patients currently waiting for care outside the hospital, like in a community clinic or through placement in a long-term care home. Hundreds of beds could be freed up through that process, officials said.

CTV News asked Dix and Henry why they weren’t doing anything to prevent the spread of all respiratory illnesses considering they were anticipating the potential of the health-care system being overwhelmed.

“I think we have to recognize viruses like influenza, like RSV, you can't stop them from coming,” said Henry, pointing to vaccinations as the best way to avoid the worst-case scenarios they’re preparing for.

A task force is being established to improve hospital efficiency and the province is reviving a nation-wide “Sentinel Practitioner Surveillance Network,” through which lab tests can identify which virus is making people very sick and “provide real-time respiratory virus surveillance and monitor vaccine effectiveness (VE) across participating provinces and Canada.” 


Officials reiterated Wednesday the importance of getting a fall booster with the Omicron-targeting bivalent vaccine. They said the boosters decrease the risk of having long COVID symptoms and reinfection of the disease.

Influenza vaccines will also soon be available in the province. They're expected to be offered to the most vulnerable community members as early as next week and may be available to all British Columbians aged six months and older after the Thanksgiving long weekend.

"We know that this bivalent booster, regardless of how many booster shots you've had in the past, we want everybody to get it," Henry said.

"We know that it protects against infection, but that wanes off over time, but does prevent against reinfection as well and we want people to have that boost in antibody levels as we go into November, December, January."

Dix acknowledged that there were empty appointments when he got his bivalent booster on the weekend, but didn’t disclose how many appointments are going unused.

When CTV News asked Vancouver Coastal Health if it had – or planned to have – a stand-by system so that vaccinators could boost more people, the health authority would only say people could “book an appointment once they receive a notification that they are eligible.” Top Stories

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