B.C. to hire health-care workers, ramp up flu vaccines to prevent strain on hospitals during influenza season


B.C. has released details of how it plans to manage COVID-19 and influenza cases in the fall and winter months and prevent a combination of the two from straining the province’s health-care system.

A key part of the strategy, announced on Wednesday by Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry involves reducing the usual demand for hospital beds by preventing seasonal flu cases, while boosting hospitals surge capacity if there is a sudden influx of patients.

The plan will inject $1.6 billion into health-care system and involve the strategic hiring and training of 7,000 health-care workers. It aims to avoid a scenario where surgeries must be widely delayed, as the province did in the spring as part of its emergency response to the pandemic.

The province says it will be launching a major vaccination campaign against influenza, with the goal of vaccinating nearly two million people, compared to the yearly average of around 1.4 million.

Vaccination on a scale ‘not yet seen’

Henry said B.C.’s vaccination strategy will be on a scale “not yet seen,” and encouraged everyone in the province over the age of six months to get vaccinated against influenza.

She said the province has been tracking COVID-19 cases in the southern hemisphere which is just coming out of its influenza season.

“The good news is that their immunization rates were very high. This triggered us to buy more vaccine here,” she said, adding that measures like physical distancing, masks, and handwashing also protect from influenza.

The plan also focuses on boosting the capacity to conduct contact tracing and COVID-19 testing, with the goal of being able to test 20,000 people per day, compared to the current capacity of around 8,000 to 10,000 tests.

B.C. will also launch a “hospital-at-home” program, where eligible patients will be able to receive treatment in their own homes, further easing demand on hospital beds and preventing the spread of the virus within health-care settings. The province says it has 533 “base beds” for COVID-19 patients spread across 19 hospitals.

Another key part of the plan is to protect B.C.’s vulnerable seniors population, which bore the brunt of the pandemic in the spring. Two thousand more staff will be hired in the province’s long-term care homes, along with 5,000 additional health-care aides.

The province has also ordered 45,000 fluzone-high doses of the influenza vaccine for high-risk seniors, which will be made available to all residents of long term care and assisted living.

Dix said the province is preparing for four potential scenarios.

  • Low COVID-19 cases — similar to the number of cases recorded in the province in June.
  • Moderate COVID-19 cases.
  • High COVID-19 cases — similar to the number of cases recorded in the province between March and May.
  • An extreme number of COVID-19 cases — twice as many cases as those recorded between March and May 2020.

Cases on the rise

On Tuesday Henry announced that 429 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in B.C. over the long weekend, bringing the total to 6,591.

A number of exposure events at nightlife venues caused the province to amend public health orders on Tuesday, ordering nightclubs and stand-alone banquet halls closed, ending the sale of liquor at restaurants past 10 p.m. and telling venues to reduce the volume from music or other sources to conversational levels.

The amendment represented the first time the province has significantly pulled back on steps that had been taken to reopen the province since May.

Henry also reiterated that B.C. residents should be easing up on social interactions as the fall approaches, reining in bubbles to five or six people, and emphasizing that the province must keep community transmission of COVID-19 low to allow schools to safely reopen. 

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