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B.C. ‘cautiously optimistic’ about COVID-19 forecast, but warns hospitals could still be overwhelmed

WATCH: B.C. health officials release COVID-19 modelling data on March 27. FULL PRESS CONFERENCE.

B.C.’s top doctor says she is optimistic that social-distancing measures put in place are helping to “level off” the spread of the novel coronavirus, but warns hospitals could still be overwhelmed by a rapid increase in cases.

On Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix released modelling data that showed what could happen under different transmission scenarios, as planning to “flatten the curve” continues.

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The daily increase of B.C.’s transmission rate has dropped from about 24 per cent to 12 per cent, thanks to physical distancing and travel restrictions.

“That tells us we are cautiously optimistic. We are levelling off,” Henry said.

“I am recognizing we are still having ongoing transmission in our community. We are doing a lot of testing and we are seeing cases arise. It is the next two weeks where we would like to see flattening and then decreasing after that.”

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Researchers compared the growth rate of COVID-19 cases in B.C. to growth rates in China’s Hubei province, northern Italy and South Korea, and examined how B.C. hospitals would deal with those circumstances should they ever arise.

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The data suggests B.C. is closer to a South Korea-type spread of the virus at present, and if the province was to continue to deal with that level of infection, its hospitals would have enough beds and ventilators.

Based on the modelling, B.C. would also be prepared to handle a Hubei-style outbreak, should the transmission rate here change, by using all available ventilators and intensive-care and acute-care beds.

“This has been enabled in large part by the decision to defer scheduled surgeries, which opened up significant surge capacity across hospitals in B.C. over the past week,” the report said.

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The epidemic in northern Italy had B.C. officials more concerned.

In a scenario akin to the transmission rate there, B.C. would have enough ventilators for the spike in COVID-19 patients, but officials would need to use all available additional hospital space and transport some patients from over-capacity sites to under-capacity sites.

Patients who do not have COVID-19 and have less acute needs would possibly need to be moved from hospitals entirely and cared for at facilities in the community.

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“This is modelling. So it is not a predictor. It’s not a prediction of where we might be or how we might go,” Henry said. “It’s a set of parameters that allow us to make some rational decisions about planning.”

British Columbia has more than 1,200 ventilators available and an additional 120 on order. Its hospitals have 5,600 acute-care beds ready.

It is the first province in Canada to release its modelling information on COVID-19.

Going forward, health authorities across B.C. will work on staffing plans for the next four to six weeks, while senior government officials work on securing more personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.

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“What we are trying to do is establish our system so everyone gets the best chance to prevent death,” Henry said.

The information is a message to double down on social distancing measures and self-isolation and not to step back, she said, because so much depends on everyone doing their part to ensure the situation doesn’t go “explosively.”

“Our outbreak will be different. It will be ours. It will be unique from all of these,” Henry said, referring to the other countries in the modelling.

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“But this gives us the way to focus the attention and understand where we may be and get people to think about how we might do this.”