Hospitals 'feeling the strain,' as B.C. records 853 new cases of COVID-19 and 1 more death
Dr. Bonnie Henry said all adults in B.C. will have access to vaccines by mid-June
B.C. health officials announced 853 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and one more death due to the disease, noting hospitals in some parts of the province, particularly in the Lower Mainland, continue to shoulder a heavy burden.
The province initially reported 874 new cases but revised it in the afternoon.
There are currently 503 people who are in hospital with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — a slight decrease from yesterday's all-time high of 515 — but the 178 patients in intensive care is the highest it's ever been.
Henry said with hospitals in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions being pushed the hardest right now, people in those regions need to be especially cautious.
"I'm asking you to pay particular attention," Henry said. "Our hospitals in these regions are feeling the strain more than ever."
She said hospitals in smaller communities also cannot handle any unexpected patient influxes and so staying local is important.
Henry also said B.C. is expecting to begin receiving much greater supplies of vaccines in coming weeks which will speed up the age-based and worker-based vaccination programs.
"This is the good news and this is what we have to look forward to in the coming weeks," Henry said. "Every adult in British Columbia will have access to vaccines by the middle of June at the rate that we expect to go, starting next week."
As of Thursday, 1,749,375 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered, 90,296 of which are second doses.
There are currently 7,996 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C. and 11,628 people are under public health monitoring due to exposure to known cases.
So far, B.C. has recorded 128,742 cases of COVID-19, including 1,577 people who have died.
Henry announced higher numbers of daily cases — 874 — and all-time cases — 128,763 — at the news conference, but a statement issued after the event, and confirmed by the Ministry of Health, noted lower numbers for both. The daily case numbers for all health authorities except Fraser Health were also revised.
Late Thursday, Vancouver Coastal Health announced that an outbreak, consisting of 16 patients and one staff member, had been declared in acute and sub-acute units on the fourth floor of Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. The area has been closed to new admissions and transfers.
Hospitalizations still high
Thursday's numbers come in the wake of a Wednesday statement from health officials that showed COVID-19 related hospitalizations at an all-time high in B.C.
Dix reported that from April 19 to 25, 398 non-urgent surgeries were postponed. The vast majority of surgeries that were postponed were slated for hospitals in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health authorities.
Anish Mitra, an ICU doctor at Surrey Memorial Hospital, said the last few weeks have been busier than any other time during the pandemic, and worries staff will soon burn out.
"People are tired," he told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko.
"Everyone's working longer hours. They're working more shifts than usual and caring for more patients than usual. There's a lot of fatigue."
Mitra doesn't believe Surrey Memorial is in dire straits — yet — but said the "only way" to ensure it doesn't get to that point is by reducing COVID-19 transmission by following public health guidelines and getting vaccinated.
"Our hope is that the community can help us provide care to them by reducing overall case numbers," he said.
Henry and Dix also urged British Columbians to continue to stay local and follow public health guidelines to break the chains of transmission.
'Get registered now'
In B.C., everyone 18 and older can now register for their vaccination. As of midnight Thursday, anyone born in 1965 or earlier will be able to book an appointment — by May 6, the age limit will drop to those born in 1971, according to a tweet from Dix.
Speaking to CBC Thursday morning, the health minister said the province's vaccination program by age cohort is going to "ramp up" next week.
"We're going to start to move very quickly through those age cohorts so everyone needs to get registered now," said the minister.
Henry said that one million doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be coming in the next month, accelerating the age-based program. She said the province expects to receive doses of the Johnson & Johnson next week and plans are being finalized for how that vaccine will be used.
Everyone aged 18 and over should register for their vaccine now, so you get notified to book an appointment when your turn comes up! It's fast, easy, and you only have to do it once. If you don't have a personal health number, register by phone. <a href="https://t.co/RDr3YpsLzS">https://t.co/RDr3YpsLzS</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CovidBC?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CovidBC</a> <a href="https://t.co/PtYX6JpVMZ">pic.twitter.com/PtYX6JpVMZ</a>—@BCGovNews
Vancouver Coastal Health released the latest numbers from Whistler on Thursday as well, saying the resort community has recorded "a significant reduction" in infections, thanks in part to a community-wide vaccination drive targeting everyone over the age of 18. So far, 17,100 doses of vaccine have been administered in Whistler clinics.
From April 19 to 25, 17 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded, compared to 72 a week earlier.
Meanwhile, about 70 per cent of clinically extremely vulnerable people who have received a letter have now received a vaccine, Henry said.
The priority worker program was "waylaid" over concerns about the Astra Zeneca vaccine but is again underway for first responders, as well as school- and child-care staff.
Dix also said 15 per cent of the 276,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arriving next week will be dedicated to front-line and essential workers.
If you have registered, you will be contact to book if you are: <br><br>Over 56 years old (born in 1965) - at midnight tonight <br><br>Over 54 years old (1967 or earlier) - on Sun, May 2<br><br>Over 52 years old (born in 1969) - on Tues, May 4<br><br>Over 50 years old (born in 1971) - on Thurs, May 6—@adriandix
Drop-in clinic issues
Drop-in vaccination clinics in the Fraser Health region this week caused confusion for people hoping for a shot.
While the clinics were intended for residents of hot spot neighbourhoods, some people who lived elsewhere told CBC they were not turned away while others who believed they were eligible said they were not informed of them.
"The pop-up clinics could have gone better, obviously," said Dix, adding the ministry and health authorities are learning from the experience and will be improving their communications.
Henry echoed those comments, apologizing for the "miscommunication and the confusion" resulting from the pop-up clinics.
WATCH | Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks to frustrations about recent pop-up vaccine clinics in Fraser Health:
"I absolutely apologize to people for the miscommunications and the confusion. That was certainly not the intent," Henry said.
"We admit there have been challenges with those clinics. Those have been concerning," she said. "The good news is thousands of people got doses of vaccine. But right now, we need to regroup."
Henry said the idea behind the pop-up clinics was to reach out to communities with lower vaccine registration levels.
Dix highlighted successes with targeted clinics in smaller communities, but the metropolitan settings offered different challenges.
Henry said the rate at which people are being vaccinated should get a significant boost with more online registrations and a lot more vaccine on the way.
With files from Bridgette Watson, Yvette Brend and On the Coast