COVID-19

Why BC Might Be Winning The Battle Against COVID-19

More will die and many more will get sick, but here are the numbers to show that BC hospitals will be able to hold off the tide until the pandemic passes

COVID-19

Why BC Might Be Winning The Battle Against COVID-19

More will die and many more will get sick, but here are the numbers to show that BC hospitals will be able to hold off the tide until the pandemic passes

In this April 1 photo, chief provincial health officer Bonnie Henry and minister of health Adrian Dix walk through the halls of the BC Parliament Buildings enroute to delivering an update on the COVID-19 situation (BC Ministry of Health).
COVID-19

Why BC Might Be Winning The Battle Against COVID-19

More will die and many more will get sick, but here are the numbers to show that BC hospitals will be able to hold off the tide until the pandemic passes

Why BC Might Be Winning The Battle Against COVID-19
In this April 1 photo, chief provincial health officer Bonnie Henry and minister of health Adrian Dix walk through the halls of the BC Parliament Buildings enroute to delivering an update on the COVID-19 situation (BC Ministry of Health).

The Capital has previously covered what COVID-19 has done to us thus far, and why there is reason to believe we are flattening the curve. But the critical days still lie ahead, and what’s going to determine if BC can weather this storm is whether our healthcare system is able to cope with the onrush of COVID-19 patients at the peak of the crisis. Below, with the assistance of researcher Harley Gordon, The Capital compiled the numbers on hospital capacity and projected infection rates, among others, to show why we may be poised to get through the worst of the pandemic without seeing our hospitals turned into the horrorscapes of Italy.

The figure most often cited in tracking BC’s progress against COVID-19 is the total number of confirmed cases, which now stands at more than 1,000. But as BC enters its third month of grappling with the outbreak, many of those 1,000 cases are now doing just fine. And as the chart above shows, on March 31 we hit a milestone of BC having more COVID-19 survivors than active cases. Public health officials expect there are still hundreds if not thousands more British Columbians who will be contracting COVID-19 in the coming weeks, but as it stands we’re now getting roughly one new infection for every successful recovery. It means we’re still in the midst of a pandemic that could spike considerably without social distancing measures, but at the moment it’s a pandemic that’s reassuringly predictable.

And this chart shows the scenario BC is trying to avoid. The most terrifying aspect of an infectious disease outbreak is its ability to spread exponentially. Like dandelions spreading on a lawn, one week the case rate can be at manageable levels, the next it can be spiralling completely out of control. Of the four Canadian provinces where COVID-19 is worst, BC and Alberta are roughly on par at limiting the rise of new cases. In Ontario and particularly Quebec, however, new cases continue to rise at worrying levels.

This is an updated version of a chart we first ran last week. When people say that BC is “flattening the curve,” they’re referring to this. In the early days of the pandemic, confirmed cases in the province were growing at a rate of 24% per day. If that trend were to have continued (as it roughly has in Italy and part of the United States), the dotted line shows how quickly that COVID-19 could have overwhelmed BC’s healthcare system. Instead, we’re on the blue line: Confirmed cases are still going up, but at a far more modest rate than if COVID-19 were spreading unchecked. That blue line hasn’t come easily. It tapers off right about the time when stringent social distancing measures began in BC. If the province had carried on as normal, it’s reasonable to assume that our COVID-19 trajectory would more closely resemble the dotted line.   

Hospital capacity is the one data point that has most worried public health authorities around the world. As we now know, most people who contract COVID-19 will recover without having to go near a hospital. But as cases rise, it also means more people requiring intensive care, most notably the use of a ventilator. For a patient in the worst throes of the disease, mechanical ventilation can be the only thing keeping them from dying of suffocation. In regions such as Northern Italy, where intensive care hospitalizations have outpaced healthcare capacity, this has resulted in triaging of ventilators; essentially, deciding that one patient will die in order to free up a ventilator for another. As of April 3, COVID-19 patients represent only about 4% of hospitalizations in BC. If the trend in the above graph holds, BC would be spared the need to triage healthcare resources. 

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