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Record number of patients in B.C. hospitals this week, minister says


B.C.'s health minister says the province hit a significant – but not unexpected – record this week.

The province's inpatient hospital population was 10,435 on Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said at a news conference on Wednesday.

That's up from an average of 9,973 over the holiday period, Dix said, noting that the early-January surge is partly a byproduct of the resumption of full surgery schedules.

The health minister said officials believe hospitalization demand is at or near its peak for the current respiratory illness season. The high point for the inpatient population last year was 10,280, which was itself an all-time record, Dix said.

"What we've seen, I think, is a continuing test of our public health-care system," he said.

The province has 9,929 "base beds" in its hospitals, according to the health minister. That means a significant number of B.C.'s 2,281 "surge beds" are currently in use, but Dix said the province has the capacity to handle an increase in demand.

"We expect this to be the relative peak of the season, but it is a significant time, and our health-care teams, our health-care workers, are doing exceptional things," he said, adding that it's "not too late" to help those workers by getting updated vaccines against influenza and COVID-19.

"It's not too late" was an oft-repeated mantra as B.C.'s top health officials held their first joint news conference of 2024 Wednesday to share updates on the ongoing respiratory illness season.


Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry joined Dix in sharing information and taking questions from reporters about a season that has seen three children under the age of 10 die from complications of influenza.  

All three of the children had secondary bacterial infections that contributed to their deaths, Henry said Wednesday.

"It is so sad and tragic," she said. "We know that children can be protected from these infections. We know that any respiratory virus can cause inflammation in the lungs that makes you more susceptible to having bacterial infections."

Most children with influenza and other respiratory viruses will recover on their own without needing medical attention, Henry said, adding that bacterial infections can sometimes cause patients to "deteriorate really rapidly."

She advised parents and caregivers to monitor children and "seek care quickly" if they experience difficulty breathing, fever that lasts longer than five days, or any fever in a child under three months of age.

"You should seek immediate attention if you have those worrisome signs in your children" Henry said.


In their last joint news conference last month, Dix and Henry encouraged B.C. residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza before the holidays.

At the time, Dix boasted that B.C. led the nation in vaccination rates, but noted that only about a third of residents who had been invited to get their jabs had done so.

The health minister repeated that claim Wednesday, describing it as a "tribute" to the province's pharmacists and public health workers, as well as the public's familiarity with the Get Vaccinated system for booking appointments.

"We are significantly better than other parts of the country," Dix said. "But being number one in Canada doesn't mean we can't do better ourselves."

As of Tuesday, B.C. had administered more than 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine and nearly 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the health minister. Last year at this time, he said, both of those numbers were higher.

"We are behind where we were last year," he said. "What that tells us is we can all continue to step up to protect ourselves, to protect our communities, and I strongly encourage people to do that. There are thousands of appointments available this week, everywhere in B.C."


B.C. began 2024 with 219 test-positive COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the province, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. 

While that marked a significant jump from the pre-holiday total of 153, it's also the lowest COVID-positive hospital population B.C. has seen to start a new year since 2020, when the disease was not yet widespread in North America.

While COVID-19 numbers have been relatively low and stable since their most recent surge in early October, influenza and RSV indicators have steadily risen, according to the BCCDC. 

Henry noted Wednesday that the current respiratory illness season has followed the pattern that was typical before the pandemic, but COVID remains unpredictable.

"We're still in a transition year with COVID-19," she said.

"It's not clear yet what pattern this virus is going to take. Now that we've seen the other respiratory viruses that we were used to seeing go back to what we saw, typical patterns, we're seeing that COVID is not yet in a pattern that we can reflect continuously." Top Stories

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