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B.C. COVID-19 hospitalizations at four-month high

27 more people recorded as having died while positive with COVID-19
An ambulance waits outside the emergency ward at Burnaby Hospital

The number of people known to be in B.C. hospitals infected with COVID-19 is higher than it has been in more than four months – 374, up by 15 from one week ago.

The last time that the government reported a higher number of these people was on Aug. 11, when there were 398 COVID-19-positive people in B.C. hospitals. 

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.

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 changed its method of counting hospitalizations on Jan. 14, so only data after that date is comparable. The province has 11,582 total hospital beds, including what it calls surge beds, which can strain the system because they require additional resources.

Of those now positive for COVID-19 in B.C. hospitals, 31 are in intensive care units (ICUs). That figure is down by three from Dec. 8. 

Severe infections have led to 27 additional COVID-19 deaths in the week up to Dec. 10, according to the province. 

The province's process for counting COVID-19 deaths has been viewed as unreliable because the count includes those who had tested positive for COVID-19 within 30 days of their deaths. This 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 4,760 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. 

The province increased its COVID-19 death toll by 45 people, despite recording 27 new deaths. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie 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.

B.C. reported 659 known new COVID-19 infections in the week that ended Dec. 10. That is the highest count since the week that ended Oct. 8, when there were 697 known new infections. 

Official COVID-19 testing in B.C. is also a shadow of what it once was. There were 7,198 tests in the week up to Dec. 10. Back in April, there were weeks where health officials conducted more than 29,000 official tests. The positive-test rate is now 9.16 per cent, which is the highest since the week ended Oct. 15.

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