As part of the final news conference of 2021 on the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer for BC spoke to how the Omicron variant has changed the response to the pandemic.
She was asked, given how fast Omicron is spreading, if it’s just a matter of time before everyone is exposed to COVID-19.
Dr. Henry said, “Everyone is going to be exposed, that is inevitable.
The virus is changed, it is spreading more rapidly, that makes it more challenging. People are spreading it to those close to them before they recognize the symptoms themselves.”
The challenge with Omicron is the incubation period between when someone is exposed, and when they can start transmitting the virus to others, is now down to three days.
Given that a PCR test can take up to 48 hrs to get results, people are transmitting the virus to others well before they show symptoms or can have test results back.
The good news, from what Dr. Henry said, is that for those who are vaccinated, the virus is no longer causing the severe illness caused by the previous strains (including Delta, the second-last variant of concern).
What this means is while BC may be experiencing record numbers of people who have COVID-19, the number of people ending up in hospital is far lower.
For comparison, on Dec 31, 2020, there were 7,803 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. There were 374 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, 76 of whom were in intensive care – a hospitalization rate of 4.79 per cent.
On Dec 31, 2021 there were 20,811 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. Of the active cases, 220 individuals were in hospital and 73 were in intensive care – a hospitalization rate of 1.06 per cent.
Dr. Henry said, “We can do things to prevent from getting sick, and passing it on to each other.
“The virus is spreading more rapidly, we have to try an do the best we can to flatten that wave. How we are protecting ourselves – is the high immunization levels. Getting a booster will help keep people out of hospital, and it helps get more antibodies in our blood.”
She said the basics from the beginning of the pandemic still apply.
“We are seeing a lot of infection, and now it is affecting people’s ability to go to work or school. We know this is spread when we are with people we are closest with. Keep groups small. Wear masks in indoor spaces.
“Do all the things that prevented spread in the past.
“Keep away from those who are most vulnerable.”
She said the Omicron wave is going to travel through the population fast.
“That is what we have seen in other places. What we need to do is protect our health care system and ensure that we are doing all the things we can do get through.”
Dr. Henry also announced this past week that the time required for people to self-isolate has been reduced.
For those who are fully vaccinated and have mild illness, the time required to isolate has been reduced to five days from seven days. For those unvaccinated, it remains at 10 days.