B.C. hospitals will soon be taking a stricter approach to who occupies its beds, as the province warns of a possible surge in influenza and COVID-19 patients.
Provincial projections suggest hundreds more people could require hospitalization between mid-November and January, when the flu season and newest COVID wave are expected to converge.
Specifically, up to 700 additional COVID patients – compared to about 350 currently – and 1,200 influenza patients could require hospital beds at any given time over the coming months, the province revealed Wednesday (Sept. 28). The latter would likely occur over just a few weeks when the flu peaks.
This surge in demand could begin as soon as mid-November, according to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who says data from the Southern Hemisphere shows influenza is hitting earlier than normal this season.
The numbers are just initial estimations, but the province says it is preparing hospitals for the worst case scenario nonetheless.
Beginning in early October, the province will begin identifying lower-priority patients who could be transferred out of hospital if beds are needed. It says there are currently about 1,300 people who could be cared for in the community, and another 500 who are awaiting care home placement.
There will also be new efficiencies in who is admitted to hospital in the first place, with the creation of an operational task group. The province says the group, along with bed management teams, will ensure only those who need a hospital bed are using one. Air ambulance teams will be used to expedite transfers when needed, the province says.
If those measures aren’t enough, the province says it will have a system in place for reducing emergency services and postponing surgeries.
Province urges vaccination
The primary way people can reduce the burden on the health care system is by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, washing their hands and staying home when they are sick, according to the province.
Influenza vaccines will be available to everyone six months and older by mid-October, and invitations have begun to go out for people who can now receive their fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The province says it is prioritizing vulnerable populations first.
As of Wednesday, 58 per cent of kids aged five to 11 have their first dose of vaccine. Of everyone over the age of five, 86 per cent have received two doses and 57 per cent have received three.
In 2020, 42.1 per cent of British Columbians got their flu vaccine, according to Statistics Canada.
Provincial modelling from January to September 2022 shows unvaccinated people were about twice as likely to be hospitalized or admitted to critical care from COVID-19 as compared to people with two vaccine doses, and four times as likely as those with three doses. The same ratio was found for those who died from the virus.
Once influenza vaccines are widely available in mid-October, the province says it will have the capacity to vaccinate about 250,000 British Columbians with it and the new Moderna bivalent vaccine per week.