Record-high hospitalizations and ICU admissions due to COVID-19 continue in B.C.

The rising number of people with COVID-19 in hospital and intensive-care units is alarming, B.C.’s top doctor said Thursday, as the province announced nine Lower Mainland hospitals will provide only urgent surgeries.

There are 502 people in hospital with COVID-19 across B.C., and 161 are in critical or intensive care. A total of 1,006 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the province Thursday, including 37 in the Island Health region.

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“The pressure on our health-care system is immense right now, and our health-care ­workers need our help,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, appealing to people to reduce their contacts, keep their distance, wear masks inside and not travel.

“Last year, many people stood at their doors [and] windows clapping and cheering for our front-line health-care workers,” said Henry.

“They are still there for us, and have been for the last 15 months. So let’s take care of the people who are taking care of us. And this means, right now, a shared sacrifice.”

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said next week, nine ­hospitals across the Lower Mainland will move to urgent and emergency surgeries only to reduce pressure on health-care-system hot spots.

“This is to ensure that they have the critical-care staff ­available to care for patients,” said Dix. “We expect that this action will be required for ­minimum two weeks, but we’re going to evaluate it on a week-by-week basis.”

The reduction applies to four hospitals in Fraser Health and five in Vancouver Coastal. About 750 non-urgent surgeries will be cancelled in Fraser Health, along with about 1,000 in the Vancouver Coastal health region.

“This news is obviously disappointing,” said Dix, who assured patients and their families the surgeries will be rebooked. “You will not be forgotten. You’re part of our surgical-renewal commitment, and as soon as we are able to do so, we will call you again to rebook your surgery.”

People should not be ­dissuaded from visiting ­emergency rooms across the province if they have an urgent need, he said.

Some patients from other health regions in B.C. that might have been sent to Metro Vancouver hospitals will come to Vancouver Island ­facilities instead for the next couple of weeks, Dix said.

The health minister noted that Island Health hospitals are “exceptionally busy” right now with record numbers of surgeries as part of a provincial push to reduce wait times.

Dr. Omar Ahmad, a Victoria-based critical care doctor who serves as department head of emergency and critical-care medicine for Island Health, said Royal Jubilee Hospital, one of three COVID designated ­hospitals on the Island, is at 90 per cent capacity in the ICU.

Numbers are the highest they’ve been for ICU admissions, he said — higher than during the second wave of the epidemic, which raises concerns about adequate staffing in the future if cases don’t start to trend down.

There are currently no patients at Royal Jubilee that have been transferred from other parts of the province, but Island hospitals are “happy to help out if needed,” Ahmad said.

Island COVID‑19 cases, and hospital and ICU admissions are among the lowest in the province.

An outbreak involving one staff member and one patient at Mount Saint Mary in the Island Health region is one of five active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living and seven in acute-care hospitals in B.C., including Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

There have been four new COVID-19 deaths in B.C., for a total of 1,174.

As for the B.1.617 variant first detected in India, Henry said it’s in B.C., although there is no indication that it’s widespread.

Flights coming into Canada from India and Pakistan were banned starting Thursday night, a move Henry said she supports, noting a similar ban was imposed in response to increased cases of variants coming from the U.K.

Anything that will stop further introductions of the virus into Canada is “really, really important,” she said.

“We know there’s been challenges with the [federal] quarantine program for international travel, so this is a good move, it’s good for all of us right now,” Henry said, adding: “We know that it’s hard on families and people who have loved ones in India right now and in Pakistan.”

“It’s a very difficult time right now in India and our heart goes out to that country.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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