No dramatic change in hospitalization by age or COVID-19 variant: Henry

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British Columbia’s top doctor says there doesn’t appear to be a significant link between rates of hospitalization and COVID-19 variants of concern circulating in the province.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the comments in a presentation Thursday, in which she said circulation of the variants had become so widespread, the province will now assume new COVID-19 infections are variants by default.

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Henry presented data that compared the period of September 2020 to February 2021, before the variants took hold, with the month of March, 2021.

According to the data overall hospitalizations per 100 infections for people younger than 79 were actually lower in the March period, while hospitalizations for people older than 80 were up significantly.

Henry characterized that as an effect of B.C.’s vaccination program in long-term care homes, and said the higher rate of hospitalization reflected seniors over the age of 80 in the community, who had not been vaccinated, ending up in hospital after being infected.

About 4.2 per centof all people who got COVID-19 in March ended up in hospital.

Among those with COVID but not a variant of concern, about four per cent were hospitalized.

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By comparison, 5.2 per cent of people who tested positive for the dominant B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the U.K. were hospitalized, and 4.3 per cent of those who tested positive for the P.1 variant, first detected in Brazil, were hospitalized.

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“This tells us that we are not seeing a dramatic change in rates of hospitalization by age or by variant, but a signal that we need to continue to monitor,” Henry said.

The age of people who have contracted the B.1.1.7 variant generally reflects the same trend as people who have contracted the non-variant strain of COVID-19 — with a slight bump for people aged 50-69 — according to the province’s data.

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However the P.1 variant skewed heavily towards younger people, with those in the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups skewing much higher than their share of the general population.

Henry said that difference reflects that the variant was spread primarily in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. A key cluster of the variant, for example, was detected in Whistler.

“We’ve seen a much lower age group of people infected, so 20-29 and 30-39 are overrepresented in the P.1 and that’s a reflection of where the outbreaks are happening and the increased transmissibility of those outbreaks,” Henry said.

Emergency room staff in Metro Vancouver have been raising concerns around younger patients showing more severe COVID-related symptoms. Both doctors at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster and Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver have expressed worries about capacity of the intensive care units.

Earlier Thursday, BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau urged the government to put in tighter restrictions to curb transmission, including banning non-essential travel instead of recommending against it and moving schools to an online instruction model.

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