Health officials unveiled British Columbia’s COVID-19 pandemic preparedness plan for the upcoming fall and winter season on Wednesday afternoon.
While the province’s response has many components, one of the main focus points is preparing hospitals to manage both the typical fall and winter demand from influenza as well as coronavirus cases that will require hospitalization and urgent care. The plan also includes a $1.6 billion investment that’s being used on different healthcare measures.
The plan also requires more preparation than BC’s response in the spring because an entire season of influenza is on the horizon rather than just the tail end.
- See also:
Hospital demand based on four scenarios of transmission
Health officials say that the coronavirus pandemic is mostly expected to be a predominant issue in the Lower Mainland. Four different transmission scenarios have been created, allowing BC’s healthcare system to plan around different levels of demand for beds, inpatient care, and ventilators.
Each virus transmission scenario — low, medium, high, and exceptional — reflects case numbers and hospital demand at different points of the past spring. It was also noted that the “exceptional scenario” entails double the number of cases seen in a “high scenario.”
Health officials say that the challenge will be maintaining normal routine access as much as possible. Additional measures such as delaying surgeries and admissions are also being considered, although they’ll be treated as a last resort.
Managing surges in cases around BC
The Ministry of Health says that since there’s a better understanding of how to manage demand in hospitals, there’s not expected to be a system-wide reduction in hospital bed occupancy.
Rather, officials will look at where increases or surges of cases are taking place, examine the hospital capacity in the region, and make adjustments at both the regional and sub-regional levels as necessary.
Similar to the spring, 19 main COVID-19 sites are being identified and used as a “first line of defence.” These sites are split between British Columbia’s health regions and will be used “until a critical mass of COVID-19 patients is accumulated.”
After that, hospitals and care sites outside of the 19 main sites will be used to handle small amounts of local cases or as extra capacity.
The provincial government says that in order to manage demand in hospitals, they’re also prototyping a program that would allow hospital patients to receive care and treatment from home.
This “hospital at home” model was first developed in Australia and the United Kingdom and would be used to reduce the amount of time that patients spend in hospitals. Although few details are available at this point, the program will first be tested on Vancouver Island before being expanded across the province.
Managing influenza and flu outside of hospitals
The Ministry of Health has also prepared a number of measures that are being taken outside of hospitals, with the goal of reducing the normal, non-coronavirus-related demand of patients.
Health officials say it’s essential for residents in BC to maintain proper hygiene practices, especially within commercial, work, and social settings. Additionally, a much stronger approach will be taken this year surrounding influenza control and flu vaccination.
A major immunization campaign will be launched in the fall, and the provincial government has purchased nearly two million doses of flu vaccine. The program will run from October to December, and any individuals who are at higher risk of the flu will be encouraged to get vaccinated.
Additionally, it’s believed that this coming flu season will be more positively impacted thanks to the physical distancing and control measures that are in place. Reducing the number of individuals that catch the flu will also bring down hospital numbers.
Of the two million doses, nearly 45,000 are being designated to those living in long-term care. The annual immunization registration program will also continue in schools, although health officials stress that the vaccination is not mandatory.
Increasing testing and contact tracing
Naturally, plenty of focus is being placed on expanding British Columbia’s testing capacity and increasing the speed and efficiency of contract tracing, which Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says is critical to controlling virus transmission.
The Ministry of Health says that they’re well on their way of expanding testing capacity, with the goal of being able to perform 20,000 tests per day by late October or early November.
Additionally, they’re optimistic that they’ll have more than 600 new staff to work with contract tracing and case management, which is critical to manage and contain suppressed transmission.
Funding has also been allocated to hire up to 2,000 additional staff across BC’s assisted living and long-term care facilities to work with infection prevention and control.
Health officials add that they’re also working to “improve and strengthen” their response to vulnerable populations that live in provincial shelters or congregate housing.
More to come…