COVID-19: Health officials asking people to change holiday plans at the first sign of illness

Bonnie Henry said people, even with mild illness, should assume they have COVID-19 and must not have contact with others.

Vancouver Sun 4 minute read December 26, 2021

B.C.’s provincial health officer is urging people to isolate from others over the holiday season, even if they are only slightly ill, while discouraging them from getting tested for COVID-19.

On Friday, Dr. Bonnie Henry admitted B.C.’s testing centres and contact tracers cannot meet the demand generated by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. She recommended anyone with mild illness should assume they have Omicron and offered a primer on what steps to take without help from the health care system.

“Our testing centres are at their capacity. We did over 20,000 PCR tests yesterday and that’s the maximum we can do, so I want to be very clear: Do not go to a testing centre unless you have symptoms,” she said.

Even those with symptoms, who are not at risk of severe illness, will not get a PCR test. They will be given a rapid antigen test that they can administer themselves.

“Rapid testing will be used for people with symptoms, to help you understand what you need to do,” she explained.

Henry said the more accurate PCR tests will be reserved for health care workers and first responders, to allow them to return to work quickly with a negative test result. Those with risk factors for more severe disease will also be given a PCR test.

“So older, over age 65 people who have underlying illnesses or have more severe symptoms where this makes a difference in how they get treated and access to treatment.”

Henry recommended that those with mild illness stay home.

“If you have any symptoms you must assume you have COVID and take measures to avoid passing it on,” said Henry. “If you are younger, vaccinated and have no other risk factors, you don’t necessarily need a test. You just have to take these actions right now.”

Those actions include isolating for seven days if vaccinated and 10 days if unvaccinated. People are being asked to do their own contact tracing as well.

“You should notify your close contacts — and that’s people that you spent time with indoors in close proximity without wearing a mask. They need to monitor for 14 days to check for symptoms themselves. Anybody who is unvaccinated, who you have had close contact with, needs to stay away from others and self-monitor for 10 days,” Henry advised.

The province’s top doctor advised people to seek medical help if their symptoms worsen or if they experience chest pains or cannot drink anything.

“Do not be afraid to call 911. And if you need it, call 811 to get advice or talk to your health care provider,” she said. “While I caution about the need to get tested, if you are seriously unwell, please do not hesitate to seek care immediately.”

The advice came as B.C. announced another record-setting day, with 2,441 new cases and four more deaths. There were 192 people in hospital and 71 in intensive care. B.C.’s hospitals are at 92 per cent base bed occupancy, with 72.9 per cent occupancy of surge beds. Critical care beds are 85.5 per cent full and at 62.1 per cent including surge beds.

Henry stressed the Omicron variant is spreading at a pace not seen before in this pandemic, noting the test positivity rate in the Lower Mainland has skyrocketed from two per cent of those tested having contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of the month to 10 per cent of those tested having the virus in the week leading up to Christmas.

Nevertheless, she downplayed the veracity of a report by the B.C. COVID-19 modelling group, which predicted there could be 10,000 Omicron cases a day in B.C. and hospital capacity could be overwhelmed two weeks from now.

“Models are dependent on the inputs that go into them and there is still much that we don’t yet know about Omicron, in particular about how it’s spreading and about the severity of illness. So by necessity, all models are wrong,” said Henry.

“I think what we need to focus on is: we can do things to control this. It’s not a prediction of what’s going to happen in the future. It is a set of parameters that could happen.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province expects to administer 147,371 vaccinations by Jan. 2. He said 907,094 booster shots have been given and 120,844 children between five and 11 years old received their first doses of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine. He added that 20 per cent of the eligible population has received their third doses.

Meanwhile, Henry acknowledged “the sacrifice” people are making by changing their holiday plans because of illness or to reduce their contacts.

She suggested people connect virtually, have their turkey dinner delivered to them or if they are well, to deliver meals or baking to others who are isolated.

“It is so, so important to connect with each other, especially at this time of year, and I encourage you to resurrect all those things we were doing before. Continuing to connect virtually is so important. It may not be the same but it will get us through these next few weeks,” she said.

“We need to give each other a booster shot of communal kindness right now.”

— with files from Canadian Press and Sarah Grochowski 

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