British Columbia

COVID wastewater uptick in B.C. no cause for alarm, says provincial health officer

Data from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control shows a steady increase in the viral load in March at numerous test sites across the province. While critics call for the province to do more, B.C.'s top doctor says the situation is under control.

BCCDC data shows steady increase in viral load in March at numerous test sites

A woman with a blond bob haircut, wearing a grey blazer over a navy blue sweater steps away from a podium. In her left hand, she holds speaking notes and a pair of reading glasses.
B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry steps away from the podium after speaking during a news conference in Vancouver on Monday, January 30, 2023. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

As data suggests cases of COVID-19 are rising in British Columbia, the province's top doctor says the situation is under control, even as some critics are calling on the province to do more. 

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), wastewater testing shows a steady increase in viral load across the province in March.

The BCCDC says it began using a most sensitive test for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater on Feb. 28 "affecting comparisons before and after that date."

Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a retired emergency physician who speaks for Protect Our Province B.C., a group of health-care professionals, scientists and advocates who say they want evidence-based policies, says if you look at data after that date, the amount of virus in wastewater has increased in many if not all regions.

"I'm hearing of more cases of COVID happening now, and my colleagues that are still practising are also seeing more cases right now," said Filiatrault. 

The BCCDC's weekly report noted 292 patients in hospital with the virus that causes COVID-19 as of Thursday compared to 250 a week ago. Three weeks ago, there were 205 patients in hospital

Nineteen patients are in critical care, up five from 14 last week.

A wastewater chart from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control for a testing site on Annacis Island shows an upward tick in SARS-CoV-2 starting at the beginning of February, before the BCCDC introduced a more sensitive test at the end of that month.
A wastewater data chart for a testing site on Annacis Island posted on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's website shows an upward tick in SARS-CoV-2. The chart timeline is from January 2022 until March 16, 2023. While the BCCDC started using a more sensitive test to detect the virus in wastewater on Feb. 28, 2023, this chart shows an uptick at this testing site prior to that change. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)

Filiatrault, speaking on CBC's The Early Editionsaid the province is not doing a sufficient job of tracking how the virus is circulating in the community and warning the public about an uptick.

She would like to see officials make efforts to monitor and control indoor air quality and remind people to restrict indoor gatherings at this time.

"We don't have any public health when it comes to COVID in this province," said Filiatrault, adding that "now is not the time to gather indoors where we don't know what the quality of the air is."

WATCH | Retired doctor discusses ways people can protect themselves:

Retired physician warns about uptick in COVID-19 in B.C.

6 months ago
Duration 1:23
Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a member of Protect Our Province B.C, is reminding residents to take measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said while wastewater data is useful, it does fluctuate, and there has not been a dramatic increase in hospital admissions.

Henry, also speaking on CBC's The Early Edition, said the level of immunity among the population in B.C. is high, and while people are still getting infected with the virus, most cases are mild, and there has not been a severe spike in people getting seriously ill.

 "We are in a different place, a very different place now," said Henry. 

Canada's national vaccination advisory body has called for high-risk individuals to get another COVID-19 booster shot starting this spring.

The B.C. government will be offering one to people most at risk, which includes long-term care residents, seniors and Indigenous people and those who are immunocompromised.

Henry said the province will continue to track wastewater, test for new variants and provide the public with weekly COVID case numbers.

After three challenging years, Henry said this spring should be a time of renewal and hope.

'People need to get back to doing those things that are important to us and being with others."

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about long COVID and misinformation on the current circulation of COVID-19.

With files from The Early Edition and The Canadian Press