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B.C.'s COVID-19 ICU patient count hits six-month high

Province adds 26 more people to its 4,680-person COVID-19 death toll
Ambulance passing bus - cc
Some COVID-19 patients are sick enough to need to be transported by ambulance

New B.C. government data show more patients in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) with COVID-19 than any other time in the past six months: 38.

Back on June 2, the province counted 41 such patients. 

The province's count for the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 while in any ward of hospitals in the province has been rising, and is now 369 – up from 328 in the previous two consecutive weeks, and 290 on Nov. 10.

B.C.'s count for COVID-19 hospital patients includes those who are in hospital for non-COVID-19 reasons, and who just happened to test positive for COVID-19. B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said earlier this year that about half of the hospital patients then counted as having COVID-19 were these "incidental" cases. She has said that incidental cases of COVID-19 are far less prominent among those who are in ICUs.

The peak for COVID-19 hospitalizations in B.C. was on Jan. 31, when 1,048 such people were taking up hospital beds. The province has 11,582 total hospital beds, including what it calls surge beds, which can strain the system because they require additional resources.  The province changed its method of counting hospitalizations on Jan. 14, so only data after that data is comparable. 

The province's weekly death count has not risen in tandem with hospital-related COVID-19 metrics. 

The province counted 26 people who died in the past eight days who had tested positive for COVID-19 within 30 days of their deaths. 

This process means that the count could include people who died in car accidents. The province also starts its countdown for that 30-day window when a person first tests positive for COVID-19, and it does not reset that clock for subsequent detected infections, further muddying which deaths were genuinely caused by COVID-19.

In total so far in the pandemic, the province has counted 4,680 COVID-19-related deaths. As has been the case every week since April, when the province changed its system for counting deaths, the number of new weekly deaths has been lower than the number that the province has added to its cumulative COVID-19 death toll. 

Henry said in April that after new deaths are announced, the province's Vital Statistics Agency would later determine that some deaths were not due to COVID-19, and that it would remove those deaths from the province's overall death toll. That process would mean that the overall COVID-19 death toll would be rising by less than the number of new weekly deaths – the opposite of what is happening.

Glacier Media has asked B.C.'s Ministry of Health about the continuing disparity but it has not been able to explain why this keeps happening. It has said that data "may be incomplete." 

B.C.'s data for new infections is largely seen as inaccurate because most people who contract COVID-19 do not contact B.C. health authorities. Henry late last year told vaccinated people who have mild COVID-19 symptoms to simply self-isolate and not get tested. Her intent was to free up staff time at testing centres, which then endured hours-long line-ups.

Official COVID-19 testing in B.C. is also a shadow of what it once was. There were 7,234 tests in the week up to Nov. 26. Back in April, there were weeks where there were more than 29,000 tests. 

Nonetheless, the B.C. government counted 604 new COVID-19 infections in the week up to Nov. 26. 

That is the most since Oct. 20, when there were 628 new cases counted.

The province no longer reports how many seniors' care homes have active outbreaks. 

The province releases updated COVID-19 data each week on Thursdays at 1 p.m. There was a technology glitch this week that prompted the province to release the data today. •