British Columbia

COVID hospitalizations in northern B.C. hit record high, 2 more lives lost

Northern B.C. is currently reporting more than double the provincial average of new COVID-19 cases, and hospitalizations per 100,000 people are more than four times that of other health regions.

Online booking system launched to keep up with demand for new tests as cases in region climb

Flowers and butterflies decorate one of the windows of the University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George. There are currently two COVID-19 outbreaks at the hospital: One in the primary care unit and one at the Jubilee Lodge long-term care unit. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

British Columbia's Northern Health Authority has launched an online booking system for COVID-19 tests as cases in the region rise high above provincial averages.

Northern B.C. is currently reporting more than double the provincial average of new COVID-19 cases, and hospitalizations per 100,000 people are more than four times that of other health regions.

As a result, the province has opened new critical care beds elsewhere in the province dedicated to supporting hospital capacity in northern B.C., and on Monday afternoon, Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters that a total of 32 people had been transported from ICU beds in the north to other parts of the province.

"Twenty-six of those are COVID-positive cases and none of them — none, zero, of the 26 — are fully vaccinated," he said. 

The rate of new hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients is more than four times the provincial average. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is currently reporting 79 people in northern B.C. are hospitalized for COVID-19, setting a new record for the region.

And Dr. Firas Mansour, Northern Health's medical lead for Prince George, said it is unlikely the current wave has hit its peak.

"We've reached an unprecedented level of patients admitted to hospitals," he told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. "We're using every possible resource to care for our patients." 

In addition to strapped emergency rooms, Northern Health is also contending with two hospital outbreaks of COVID-19: one at Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton and the other in the primary care unit of the University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George.

An outbreak at the Jubilee Lodge long-term care facility, which is attached to the hospital in Prince George, has now claimed six lives, as well.

A total of 176 people in northern B.C. have died of COVID, with two new deaths recorded over the weekend.

As a result of the climbing cases in the region, the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation has restricted access to its reserve land just outside Prince George.

'This is preventable'

Mansour said staff are feeling burned out and frustrated as resources are diverted to look after largely unvaccinated patients being admitted into emergency rooms.

While he said everyone admitted will receive care, he urged people sitting on the fence to get vaccinated to avoid contributing to the mounting crisis.

"This is preventable," he said.

From Sept. 17 to 30, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 81.4 per cent of hospitalizations, according to the province. After factoring for age, people not vaccinated are 25 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are fully vaccinated, it said.

Delays in testing, contact tracing

Residents of northern B.C. have also complained of long wait-times in order to book COVID-19 tests, leading to delays in contact tracing.

Northern Health's chief medical health officer, Dr. Jong Kim, said the primary bottleneck has been the limitations of the health authority's phone-booking system and, as a result, an online booking system was launched Monday morning.

"Once the booking is done, your test should be done within a day," he said. Turnaround time for getting the results should be within 48 hours, he said.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

With files from Tanya Fletcher

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