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COVID-19 modelling paints dark picture for northern B.C.

Northern Health's capacity to treat patients will peter out more quickly than elsewhere in B.C.
University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George.

Northern Health's capacity to treat patients will peter out more quickly than elsewhere in B.C. if the novel coronavirus pandemic reaches the levels seen in the harder-hit regions of the world, according to a modeling exercise the provincial government made public on Friday.

Health officials took the per-capita growth number of confirmed cases reached in South Korea, Hubei province in China and in northern Italy over the 28 days after the counts in those areas stood at two per one million people and applied their numbers to British Columbia.

If the pandemic was limited to the relatively-modest numbers seen in South Korea, northern B.C. would have 12 patients in need of intensive care and 23 of them would need ventilators, according to the model's estimates.

But under that scenario, University Hospital of Northern British Columbia would be short two intensive-care beds although it would have six ventilators to spare. Indeed, the province would have an excess of just four ICU beds while it would have 295 more ventilators than needed.

Once the modeling has progressed to the worst-case scenario, based on northern Italy's experience, 47 patients would need intensive care and 38 of them would need ventilation, leaving UHNBC short 37 beds and 22 ventilators.

Major hospitals in other health authority regions would also be short beds but Vancouver Coastal and Vancouver Island would still have extra ventilators.

In all cases, UHNBC would have 10 intensive care beds and 16 ventilators available to help patients struck with the virus. The modeling also assumes that in all scenarios, nine patients would be in the hospital's intensive care unit for other reasons.

Looking at acute or non-critical care across all hospitals in northern B.C., there are 412 such beds in the region.

Under the South Korea scenario, there would be just 11 beds to spare. If it got as bad as Hubei, there would be a shortage of 16 beds while the four other health authority regions would still have room available.

Under the worst-case scenario, there would be a shortage of 143 acute care beds in northern B.C. and by that point, the province as a whole would be short 1,778 acute care beds. By that point, additional beds would be set up outside hospitals to meet the demand.

Health minister Adrian Dix used the numbers to urge a "100% commitment" to social distancing, self isolation and traveling only when necessary as a way to prevent putting the province in the predicaments.

B.C. public health officer Bonnie Henry admitted seeing "glimmers of hope" in an apparent leveling off in the number of cases emerging in B.C. as of Friday, but also urged people to "double down" on take steps to contain the spread.

"I will be optimistic when we have a vaccine and everyone's protected against the virus," Henry said. "Until then, I am going to continue to focus all of our attention on making sure we're doing everything we can to try and minimize the impact on our families and our communities here in B.C."