B.C. officials acknowledge record case counts don’t reflect ‘number of people who truly have COVID’


B.C. recorded 2,944 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, as provincial health officials acknowledged challenges around access to testing means the actual number of people who have contracted the virus is likely much, much higher.

Testing sites on the Lower Mainland have been straining to meet the demand, with hours-long lineups reported at some, extreme cold weather forcing the closure of others. Test-seekers have reported being turned away or some being sent home with a rapid test. Those who are vaccinated and have mild symptoms are now being told not to get tested at all, and instead to isolate for seven days. Still, daily case counts continue to shatter records.

RELATED: British Columbians turned away at COVID-19 test sites amid extreme cold, capacity limits

“On average, there’s probably three to four times the number of people who truly have COVID than what is in our surveillance numbers on a daily basis. That is something that we’ve seen throughout this pandemic,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

“All along, we’ve known that the daily numbers are not reflecting everybody who has COVID in our province, that has been the case from the very beginning. And at different periods of time, the actual true number can be varied by four or five times what we’re seeing in terms of PCR testing.”

RELATED: B.C. record-breaking caseload likely much higher amid testing challenges

More than half of cases reported Wednesday — 1,591 — were in the Fraser health region. Vancouver Coastal saw the second-highest with 571.

There are 2,452 confirmed Omicron cases, up from 1,613 on Dec. 24 which was the last day this number was released. Those cases are also highly-concentrated in the populous Lower Mainland, with 1,265 in Vancouver Coastal and 628 in Fraser Health.

Henry said a significant rise in the rate of people testing positive is “driven” by this variant, which accounts for the “majority” of news cases.

“Our positivity rates are going up. They took off first in the areas where they were the lowest — Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health.”

The one-day test positivity rate in Vancouver Coastal Wednesday was 20 per cent, according to Henry.

Five people have died in the province since Dec. 24. There has not been a significant spike in hospitalizations or people in critical care. There are 206 people are in the hospital, 66 of whom are in the ICU.

However, Henry noted a significant increase in hospitalizations in Quebec, saying it is something she and her colleagues are monitoring closely and trying to understand better.

“We cannot stop the spread, what we can do is try and flatten it down and draw it out a little bit so that we are not seeing a rush on our hospitals,” she said.

“We’ve taken some measures here to try and protect our healthcare system, including things like cancelling surgeries, which is a very serious measure.”

However, the rate at which the virus is spreading in the community is something Henry says will impact staffing levels in health-care facilities.

“We’re starting to see absenteeism from Omicron, mostly with mild illness.”

Five new health-care facility outbreaks were reported Wednesday, bringing the provincial total up to seven. The new outbreaks were all in Metro Vancouver, with four in Fraser health and one in Vancouver Coastal. This comes after a brief period — between Dec. 16 and 23 — when there were none. there were no health-care facilities with active outbreaks in British Columbia.

On the vaccination front, 82.8 per cent of eligible British Columbians five and older have received two doses and 88 per cent have received one shot. Of those 12 and over eligible for a booster, 18. 5 per cent have received a third shot.

Between Dec. 21 and 27, 84.1 per cent of new cases were among those who have been fully vaccinated. People not fully vaccinated accounted for 15.9 per cent of cases. From Dec. 14 to Dec. 27, 57.6 per cent of those hospitalized were not fully vaccinated.

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