BC releases first weekly COVID-19 update, with new definition of hospitalizations

The BC government has released its first weekly COVID-19 updatewhich includes a new definition of hospitalizations that could complicate comparisons between past and future waves.

The new reports are being released every Thursday, with data covering the preceding full week from Sunday to Saturday, making the information several days old by the time it’s shared with the public. Previously, data was released by the Ministry of Health every weekday.

That delay shouldn’t be a problem for independent researchers at the BC COVID-19 Modeling Group, according to member Dr. Sarah Otto, who noted that trends are generally mapped over several weeks.

“The models are not going to be that affected only having data by the week rather than the day,” she told CTV News.

Otto said she’s more concerned about changes to the way COVID-19 hospitalizations are counted. According to the first weekly report, hospitalizations now include anyone who was admitted to hospital with COVID-19 or had “any hospitalization episodes” within 14 days of positive testing, except those who were discharged on the same day.

It’s unclear how different the results will be from the previous counting method, which the province stopped using on April 1 and did not include patients who tested positive within 14 days of a “hospitalization episode.”

in to news release, the Ministry of Health said there will “likely be a one-time increase in the number of cases ever hospitalized,” as well as an increase in the number of patients ever admitted to crucial care. CTV News has reached out to the ministry for more clarity on the differences between the two counting systems.

Any significant change in tracking could make it challenging to directly compare the next wave of Omicron infections to the first, Otto said.

“I’d really like to see how the hospitalization count differs between the old and new definition, just so we have some sense of how big a change is coming,” she added.

The weekly reports include the number of new hospital admissions, something that was not previously available in the province’s daily updates. There were 193 people admitted during the week ending on April 2.

But Otto noted that researchers and the public still don’t have access to the daily breakdowns of hospital admissions, with corrections, which the COVID-19 Modeling Group has been requesting from the government.

Otto said hospitalization numbers are often corrected after the fact, as better information is gathered from hospitals, but modellers have never been able to view that fixed data.

“If we could get that corrected hospital admission data by day, that will make our statistical analysis more powerful. We’ll be able to better detect trends,” she said.

There were also 1,706 cases and 11 deaths reported in the week ending on April 2, though those numbers also come with new caveats.

Case numbers no longer include people who live outside the province, while death counts now include anyone who died within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 test, at least until their cause of death can be confirmed through Vital Statistics, a process that takes about eight weeks.

Critics have slammed the government for decreasing the frequency at which COVID-19 information is released to the public, particularly at a time when the Omicron subvariant BA.2 is fueling increases in transmission and hospitalizations in many places, including British Columbia.

“This government is desperate to maintain its narrative around its management of this pandemic, and is doing so by limiting testing, monitoring, and reporting. They have closed down community monitoring at the beginning of a sixth wave,” BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau said in a statement this week.

“It is not an impossible task for this government to provide clear guidance to the public on what level of risk they are at.”

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