Health officials announced Friday that the latest wave of COVID-19 may be on a downward trajectory in British Columbia.
Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix shared the latest modeling data at a morning news conference, revealing they believe the peak in local infections has reached the end of last week. Daily cases have reached record levels recently, in large part due to how transmissible the Omicron variant is.
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The latest wave of COVID-19 case data didn’t paint a complete picture of how many people have the disease as BC has struggled with its testing ability. The most reliable PCR tests are reserved for people at high risk of developing serious illness, unvaccinated, or doing front-line work. However, access to rapid tests is still difficult for most people.
As a result, officials said Friday that PCR testing — and thus the number of cases reported — represents only a subgroup of the community, but a high-risk subgroup with high positive test rates. Those positive PCR results are declining, officials said, adding that specific case numbers are not as important as the overall track.
Officials suggested transmission was still likely three to four times the numbers being reported daily.
“We’ve been doing our PCR tests for a number of weeks now,” Henry said.
“But it does give us a sense because we’ve been watching the PCR test over time, it reflects change and patterns over time.”
Additional data shared by health officials showed that the lower mainland condition trajectory is similar to other urban centers where Omicron has become dominant, with the latest wave continuing only a few weeks before this downward trend began.
“We can now say with some confidence that the pattern shows a sustained decline and that this pattern mirrors what we see in other jurisdictions,” Henry said.
The prospect of BC peaking in this wave so quickly isn’t a huge surprise, officials said, explaining that the Omicron variant has been shown to have a shorter incubation period and shorter disease duration.
Another way for health officials to track the trend in local cases is through wastewater testing. Wastewater testing at five plants in Metro Vancouver shows virus detection trending downward.
Throughout the pandemic, wastewater has been used as an early warning signal for COVID-19 in the community and to fill in gaps when testing is over capacity.
“When we look at wastewater monitoring, it doesn’t really depend on who gets tested,” Henry explained. “It’s really a measure of how much the virus is in the community.”
Henry said monitoring indicated a peak in the virus around the first week of January, which she said was “very similar” to the PCR test data.
Modeling data released by British Columbia health officials on January 14, 2022. But even as cases are declining, the same cannot be said for hospitalization.
“We’re still at the point where our hospitalization rate is going up,” Henry said. “The new (hospitals) remain a concern.”
Officials explained that these rates tend to lag compared to infections and that it may take about a week or two before there is a drop in these numbers.