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It’s not endemic, but BC’s COVID-19 strategy is shifting as the virus does

It’s no secret that the Omicron wave of COVID-19 has been very different than the first four waves of this pandemic.

Lately, it’s led to changes to guidance from the BC Centre for Disease Control regarding the virus, which provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed today.

The PHO said that contact tracing is no longer effective due to the shorter incubation period and high infectiousness of Omicron, which means the province needs to shift its management of the pandemic.

Henry explained that everyone should assume they’ve been a close contact to someone with COVID-19 and it falls on individuals to self-monitor themselves for symptoms.

That means, of course, staying home until you feel better if you do have any symptoms of any illness, whether it’s COVID-19 or not.

<who>Photo Credit: Government of BC

“I absolutely recognize this is a shift and it means that we have to change our way of thinking that we have been working on so intently together for the last two years, but we are all familiar with these new measures,” she said. “They’re much more like how we manage other respiratory illnesses like influenza, RSV or enteroviruses that cause the common cold.”

Henry added: “We cannot eliminate all risk and I think that’s something we need to understand and accept as this virus has changed and has become part of what we will be living with for years to come, but we can use all the layers of protection to keep our workplaces, our school, our healthcare and other activities running as safely as possible.”

The rule of thumb at this stage of the pandemic is essentially what we were used to before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are feeling unwell, particularly if you have a fever, stay home and stay away from others and only return to normal activities when you are feeling better.

<who>Photo Credit: 123rf

However, Henry said that if you have a mild illness, like a sore throat or the sniffles, stay home as well, but if you feel better the next day, you can go back to school, work or child care.

That applies to both kids and adults, she said.

Henry cited the newly updated BCCDC symptom checker as something people should be familiar with, as it outlines symptoms of COVID-19 and details who should be seeking a test if they do fall ill.

The BCCDC also has updated guidelines on isolation for those who do test positive for the virus, which is five days for vaccinated people and unvaccinated children, but 10 days for unvaccinated adults.

While the shifts discussed today may give a semblance of BC switching to endemic mode, Henry was adamant that is not the case yet.

“We are clearly not in a place where it's endemic right now,” she said. “We're adjusting to changes from the new variant. It is causing different patterns of illness. Our previous measures are not effective.”

She mentioned that there are still restrictions in place and businesses have gone back to their COVID-19 safety plans, but the PHO does believe that we will be moving towards endemic.

One of the reasons that will happen is the level of exposure we’ve all had to COVID-19 from this new strain, but she maintained that vaccination is still the number one prevention measure.

During today’s briefing, she also disclosed some new data on hospitalizations between Dec. 14 and Jan. 4 that displayed the effectiveness of vaccines on preventing severe illness from the virus.

It showed the difference in hospital rates between people depending on their vaccination status, age and at-risk conditions, something Health Minister Adrian Dix put a personal spin on.

“I am in my 50s and I have type one diabetes,” he explained.

“If I was unvaccinated, my risk of hospitalization is a staggering eight times higher than my current circumstance, which is (that) I've been triple vaxxed. Without the booster dose, my risk of hospitalization would be twice as high, and this is true for people in high-risk categories.”

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