B.C.'s provincial health office, Dr. Bonnie Henry during a press conference in Victoria. (Photo - BC Govt.)
Dr. Bonnie Henry
Dr. Bonnie Henry
British Columbia's provincial health officer says she's optimistic the province is moving to a "better place" that could see more COVID-19 restrictions lifted by mid-March, before spring break.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday that a decline in hospitalizations, immunity from vaccination and the availability of at-home rapid tests point the way forward to normal activities like high school graduations, which youth in particular need to feel connected to others.
However, she said not everyone will be ready or able to leave behind some pandemic measures like masks and physical distancing so it's important for people to be respectful of those who are immunocompromised or elderly because they're still at risk of infection.
"These are not tools that we abandoned. They are things that helped us, that worked. They're part of the strategies that we've had. Before vaccination, they were the only strategies that we had. Now, we have that level of immunity. But that's going to change and wane over time."
Businesses and workplaces will have to take responsibility for requiring some measures like vaccine passports, depending on the level of risk, and it's important to move slowly through a time of transition, Henry said.
There are still some uncertainties about new variants, including BA. 2, with some cases present in B.C., though no cases of BA. 3 and Delta Omicron have been detected in the province, she said.
Updates on COVID-19 will soon be provided weekly as B.C. ensures it's prepared for a potential uptick in COVID-19 cases during the next respiratory season.
"We know there will be respiratory virus resurgence. And we've seen there's a pattern to COVID as well so we may need these additional layers of protection again as we move into next fall," she said.
The province will integrate wastewater surveillance testing for COVID-19 into its regular surveillance of respiratory illness including influenza and also include other pathogens in an effort to get a periodic snapshot of what else may be circulating in communities, Henry said.
Unlike in much of the country, vaccine passports are still needed in B.C. to attend indoor events, though Henry has said that measure may also be reconsidered before its current expiry at the end of June.
Overall, the province is moving into a phase that will have people making individual choices to protect themselves from infection, she said.
"We are in a transition phase. We do not know enough about this virus from an epidemiologic point of view for us to consider it endemic. That presupposes that we know the pattern that we're going to see through respiratory season," she said.
"We have a pretty good idea now. But there's still a lot of this virus circulating around the globe. There are inevitably going to be changes and surprises that we will need to adapt to."
Health Minister Adrian Dix said that despite lower numbers of people in hospital, the health-care system faces workforce challenges, which the province is trying to address.
Last month, he announced B.C. will add 602 nursing seats to public post-secondary institutions. That number will add to about 2,000 existing seats, mostly in programs training registered nurses, but also in those for future psychiatric and practical nurses.
B.C. reported Tuesday that 523 people were in hospital, with 83 of them in intensive care. Dix said that's about half the number of hospitalizations at the peak of the Omicron wave.
The province also said 466 new cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed.
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