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'We cannot eliminate all risk' — B.C. changes approach in fight against COVID-19

Provinical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said 'we have to change our way of thinking' as contact tracing is no longer an effective measure to help slow the spread of the COVID-19
Henry and Dix
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday that while the COVID-19 is not yet endemic, the Omicron wave warrants a new strategy to stem its transmission

B.C. is transitioning its approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, as the recent Omicron wave provides new challenges.

During Friday's press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said B.C. is finally seeing a decrease in new daily cases, along with a slight recent slowdown in new COVID hospitalizations.

She also said COVID treatments like Paxlovid and sotrovimab – a monoclonal antibody – are expected to soon be available in B.C.

She noted that contact tracing is no longer an effective measure to help slow the spread of the disease in its current form, due to the shorter incubation period of the omicron variant, its rapid spread, and the fact that many more infected people show little or no symptoms.

“I absolutely recognize this is a shift and it means we have to change our way of thinking that we have been working on so intently together for the last two years,” Dr. Henry said. “But we are all familiar with these new measures, they're much more like how we manage other respiratory illnesses.

“We cannot eliminate all risk and I think that's something we need to understand and accept as this virus has changed and has become part of what we will be living with for years to come.”

Dr. Henry presented new data taken from 606 COVID-19 hospitalizations in B.C. between Dec. 14 and Jan. 6, which analyzed the risk factors of COVID hospitalizations.

She noted that despite the massive increase in the number of cases during the current Omicron wave, the overall hospitalization rate is vastly lower than during the previous Delta wave in the fall, at 1.2 per cent. The single most important risk factor remains age, as people 80 years and older are 28 times more likely to be hospitalized than younger people.

The new data also shows the effectiveness of vaccination in keeping people out of hospitals. Dr. Henry said when controlling for other factors, people who have three doses of the vaccine are nine times less likely to be hospitalized than those without.

“If we look at young people who are vaccinated, and even older people who are vaccinated with three doses, your risk of having severe enough illness that you require hospitalization is negligible – it's under one per cent. That's important, it's really good news,” Dr. Henry said.

“There is incontrovertible evidence ... that vaccination not only reduces your risk of transmission – doesn't eliminate it, but reduces it – and it reduces your risk of passing it on to others, but most importantly, it dramatically reduces your risk of having severe enough illness where you end up in hospital.”

In light of the Omicron wave, the BC CDC has updated its policies for vaccinated people who test positive for the virus, as they are now required to isolate for five days rather than 10 days. Those who are unvaccinated will still be required to isolate for 10 days.

Additionally, Dr. Henry said those who are close contacts of people who test positive are not required to isolate, but it remains important for people to stay away from others if they feel unwell.

“As long as we are feeling well in this new context, we can and must continue going to work, going to school, and socializing safely in our small groups,” she said.

“We are all close contacts of somebody with the virus, so we absolutely need to pay attention to how we are feeling and make sure that we have a very low threshold for staying away and waiting for another day if we're feeling unwell.”

Despite some of the changes, Dr. Henry said they are still working to control the spread of the disease in the province.

“We are clearly not in a place where it's endemic right now, what we are doing it adjusting to the changes that we've seen from the new variant ... this virus continues to be persistent, to be changing and to cause different patterns of illness,” Dr. Henry said.