COVID-19 hospitalizations: British Columbia changes reporting system, causing numbers to rise

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The BC government has announced it is moving to a “census-based hospitalization reporting” system, meaning every hospital patient who tests positive for COVID-19 will be included in the daily counts.

Provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry said the new reporting system will lead to an increase in the total number of hospitalizations in British Columbia from Thursday’s record high of 534 to more than 600.

Census reports do not attempt to separate so-called “accidental” cases of COVID-19, which include patients hospitalized for reasons unrelated to the virus but who test positive during routine screening, such as those who surrender undergoing surgery or giving birth.

“They are not hospitalized due to the impact of COVID, either directly or indirectly due to the exacerbation of other illnesses,” Henry said.

The province described its old reporting system as “a bit of a composite” of census data and hospitalization lists from its health authorities. Analyzing these lists to separate incidental cases takes considerable effort, Henry said, and has become increasingly difficult as the Omicron variant has resulted in unprecedented transmission in the province.

“It really means we have to do a review of the records of each individual case,” the provincial health official said, adding that officials were trying to find a way to automate the process.

The previous system also excluded those who caught COVID-19 in hospital due to an outbreak and those who lived outside the province.

While the census system is an “overestimate” of the impact of COVID-19 on B.C. hospitals, Henry said it’s the cleanest way to report for now. More detailed breakdowns separating hospitalizations caused by serious illness related to COVID-19 from incidental cases will be published by the BC Center for Disease Control on a regular basis, possibly weekly.

As part of a modeling presentation on Friday, Henry also presented a breakdown of 56 COVID-19 hospitalizations recorded last month in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 45% of which were accidental.

“It gives us a cross section of what we might see in other places,” she said.

Of the patients who required hospitalization for COVID-19, the majority had the Delta variant. This included 64% of people in hospital who did not need intensive care, as well as 78% of those who needed intensive care or died from the disease.

There were no confirmed cases of Omicron in this latter group, as the remaining 22% of patients were not sequenced.

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