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Healthy, vaccinated people face only tiny risk of hospitalization from Omicron, Henry says

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice: “All of us need to routinely check ourselves every day, self-monitor, and if we have symptoms that might be COVID, that might be influenza, that might be a cold, we need to stay home until we feel better. Right now, with the level of transmission in our ­communities, we all need to assume that we have been in contact with somebody with the virus.”
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A pickup and drop-off site for COVID-19 rapid test kits at Ogden Point. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Healthy people who are double- or ­triple-vaccinated against COVID-19 have only a “negligible, under one per cent” risk of hospitalization if they catch the Omicron variant, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday.

However, because Omicron is ­infecting so many people, it “still ­translates into large numbers of people requiring hospital care and we’re ­seeing the impact of that in our hospitals right now,” Henry said during a media ­briefing.

“The single most important risk factor for having severe illness with COVID-19 that requires hospitalization is age.”

People 70 and older, those with immune compromised systems, p­regnant women and the unvaccinated are at higher risk of serious illness from Omicron.

The latest guidelines issued by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control try to minimize disruptions to society while ­preserving the health-care system, Henry said.

“All of us need to routinely check ourselves every day, self-monitor, and if we have symptoms that might be COVID, that might be influenza, that might be a cold, we need to stay home until we feel better. Right now, with the level of transmission in our ­communities, we all need to assume that we have been in contact with somebody with the virus.”

Eliminating all risk is not possible, Henry said.

Unvaccinated adults who test positive are at risk of having longer-lasting and more severe illness and must isolate for 10 days, but staying home for five days is enough for those who are vaccinated.

Children are at much lower risk of severe illness and can clear infections faster, so five days’ isolation is also ­suitable for them, Henry said.

People exposed to someone with COVID-19 do not need to stay home unless they also become unwell.

The province reported 2,364 new cases on Friday, of which 334 were in Island Health, for a total 33,997 cases in B.C. Island Health has 2,024 active cases.

There were 934 people in hospital, including 130 in intensive care, and nine more deaths, one of which was in the Island Health region.

Henry reiterated the need for ­sticking to the basics to prevent ­infection — vaccination, wearing tight-fitting ­good-quality masks when indoors, keeping groups small, following public health orders, and handwashing. People at risk must be extra cautious, Henry said.

She said that “with the emergence of these more transmissible variants with shorter incubation periods, COVID-19 is no longer an infection for which contact tracing is an effective intervention.

“We now need to shift our ­management and think about the things that we can do across the board to ­prevent transmission and to prevent ourselves from being exposed.”

The Centre for Disease Control offers a symptom checker which advises that otherwise healthy individuals with mild to moderate symptoms don’t need to be tested.

“It’s a finite capacity for testing and we need to reserve that for people where it will change their management or their ability to go to work for ­example,” said Henry.

“That’s the best use of testing right now.”

Henry said modelling shows a slowing of new COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions, “although they remain relatively high compared to what we’ve seen previously in the pandemic.”

Outbreaks in long-term care ­continued to climb Friday, with 62 across the province, 24 of which are in Island Health.

Added to the list on Friday were Mount St. Mary Hospital in Victoria, Echo Village long-term care home in Port Alberni and Arrowsmith Lodge in Parksville.

Henry said COVID remains a ­pandemic and is far from endemic. We will be living with the virus for years to come, she said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

— with a file from The Canadian Press