In its latest weekly report, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says COVID-19 hospitalizations have remained steady across the province, but the number of patients in critical care has gone up.
On Thursday, the BCCDC reported 328 people in hospital with the coronavirus — the same as the week before. But the province also reported 37 people in the ICU with the disease, an increase of 42 per cent from the 26 reported on Nov. 17.
The latest numbers show that as of Nov. 19, 21 people died after testing positive for COVID-19 within the last 30 days. For the week ending Nov. 12, B.C. first reported 30 new deaths, but that total has since been revised upwards to 41.
A total of 4,642 people are believed to have died of causes related to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
B.C. labs reported a total of 498 new cases as of Saturday, Nov. 19, an increase of two per cent .
Since the BCCDC only tallies PCR tests in its case numbers — which most people in B.C. don't have access to right now — the reported cases are believed to significantly underestimate the actual spread of the disease.
The centre says it's still monitoring virus levels in wastewater at five treatment plants in the Metro Vancouver region, where about half of B.C.'s population is located.
While the SARS-CoV-2 viral load is "slowly but consistently increasing" at the Annacis plant, which approximately covers the Fraser North and Fraser South health regions, levels are steady at the four other facilities.
Respiratory illnesses crowding hospitals
Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province is ready to cancel surgeries to make more room for patients in hospitals, especially pediatric emergency rooms overrun by children dealing with respiratory illnesses.
B.C. parents have been raising concerns about long ER wait times since the beginning of November, and two major hospitals in Metro Vancouver are struggling to keep up with a massive influx of sick children.
Christy Hay, the executive director of B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, says her department is seeing several viral illnesses, including COVID-19 and rising cases of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The hospital activated its emergency overflow protocol to triage less urgent cases.
Dr. Randeep Gill, an emergency physician at Surrey Memorial Hospital, says the pediatric ER at his facility is currently seeing around 250 patients a day, even though it was only designed to handle 72.
On Thursday, Dix told reporters at the B.C. Legislature that the province is weighing its options to relieve some of the pressure.
"We do have other steps we don't want to take, but they would be, for example, delay of non-urgent surgery," he said.
"That step is available to us. We haven't done it yet. We knew this was going to be a hard season, and it is."
Children's Healthcare Canada, a collection of child-health leaders nationwide, says health centres across the country have experienced a "critical surge in admissions of children and demand" this month.
The organization is asking provinces and Ottawa to convene a First Ministers meeting between premiers, the prime minister and the chief nursing officer to build a plan addressing the children's health-care crisis.