British Columbia should have enough hospital beds and ventilators to cope with the surge in COVID-19 patients that has overwhelmed hospitals in Italy, according to models health officials released on Friday.
And while sweeping restrictions put in place this month on travel, businesses and social gatherings are helping curb transmission of the novel coronavirus, those orders need to be maintained and followed to keep trends moving in the desired direction, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said.
“The next two weeks, in particular, are our critical time,” Dr. Henry said at a briefing where the province released COVID-19 modelling that compared the growth of cases in B.C. with two other jurisdictions: Hubei province in China and northern Italy.
“But what I don’t want to see, and what I lie awake at night worrying about, is that line is going to start to dramatically increase if we let [restrictions] off too quickly," Dr. Henry said.
The information provided in the briefing shows the rate of increase in daily cases in B.C. changed from 24 per cent before restrictions in travel and social contact began two weeks ago to an average daily increase of 12 per cent.
Currently, B.C.'s reported cases amount to about 130 per one million population, Dr. Henry said. Had the province continued on the same trajectory it was on as of March 14, the number of cases now would have been about 215 per million.
Another reason B.C.'s health officials are confident they can meet the expected increase in demand is that the province has had time to empty thousands of acute care beds. Hospitals are undertaking only urgent and emergency procedures, and all non-urgent scheduled surgery has been postponed. Those measures have freed up one-third of the beds that earlier this month were at full capacity.
Still, Dr. Henry urged B.C. residents to continue following restrictions to keep the spread of the disease in check.
“That’s what we’ll be watching going forward,” she added.
Also on Friday, B.C.'s Fraser Health Authority announced COVID-19 cases at two long-term care facilities in the province, bringing the total number of care homes that have reported cases to 11.
The modelling information provided by the province included the number of ventilators and hospital beds around the province and estimates of hospital demand using conservative – that is, on the high side – assumptions for the percentage of COVID-19 patients who would need intensive care.
Based on projections with a rate of increase the same as Hubei experienced, the province would likely have enough hospital capacity; if cases followed the pattern of the northern Italy outbreak, the province would likely have to move some patients to alternate facilities to make room.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said regional health authorities had been working to identify sites, and air ambulances are being readied to juggle patients as needed.
“And what that reflects is that we are absolutely determined to prepare for the worst, even as we work, and everyone works their guts out, to ensure that the best scenarios emerge,” Mr. Dix said.
Dr. Henry and Mr. Dix said the province is working on getting more personal protective equipment after Dr. Henry earlier this week said that health-care workers are going through it more quickly than expected. That rate has levelled off, but getting enough remains a priority, they said.
As of Friday, British Columbia had 914 ventilator-capable critical-care beds. But the number available for COVID-19 patients in the province’s main hospitals is 348 – the others are not counted because they are in use, are designed for children or for transport services or are not in the hospitals that are expected to deliver most of the COVID-19 care. The models show that would be enough to meet the peak demand of 271 adults requiring ventilation in what is considered the most likely scenario for B.C.
The province ordered 120 new ventilators on March 5, but so far has secured just 15. In the meantime, it has refurbished old ones.
“I think it’s fair to say you can always be more prepared, and that the level of this pandemic has been a surprise to most public health people in the world, the extent of it,” Mr. Dix said on Friday in response to a question about ventilator capacity in the province.
Since March 12, when British Columbia’s provincial health officer began imposing travel restrictions, the province has seen an ever-expanding range of social measures designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
These include a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, and the closing of casinos, bars and nightclubs. Personal service establishments, such as nail salons, tattoo parlours, barbershops, beauty parlours and health spas, are also closed. Restaurants and cafés can serve takeout or delivery only.
BC Ferries is restricting travel to essential traffic. Recreational campsites and most provincial parks are closed. All BC Transit and Translink buses are loading only by rear doors, for free.
All public universities and colleges have switched to online classes for the rest of the term. All classroom learning in the kindergarten-Grade 12 system is suspended indefinitely.
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