With respiratory season coming to a close in B.C., some of the last remaining COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted in the province.
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the prevalence of all respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, has been decreasing in the province over the past few months.
“We've been seeing a levelling off and a decreasing of hospitalizations,” Henry said.
“We've been coming out of the emergency phase for sure. We still see quite a lot of COVID ... but I think in the next few months we'll be able to say we're no longer in a pandemic.”
As such, the public health orders that have required health-care facility visitors to be vaccinated for COVID-19 have been lifted, as has the requirement for universal mask-wearing by all staff and visitors in health-care facilities. Rapid antigen testing in long-term care facilities is also no longer required.
“While the mandatory masking orders are being lifted, masking remains a very important tool in the health-care setting and health-care workers will still wear a mask based on their risk assessment: what patient they're seeing, what the symptoms are, what the person has, what setting they're in, and you might be asked to wear a mask, particularly if you have symptoms yourself and you're going into a health-care setting for care,” Henry said.
But despite no longer requiring care home visitors to be vaccinated for COVID-19, Henry said all health-care workers in the province will still be required to be vaccinated for the virus, calling the measure “incredibly important.”
“It is what has allowed us to get back to a more normal, pre-pandemic health-care system in our long-term care homes and hospitals,” she said. “It protects us from passing it along to each other, it protects us from having more severe illness where we're unable to work, and it protects the people that we care for.
“We still have a lot of uncertainty for the next little while, and I don't see that lifting.”
Beginning this week, the province will begin rolling out a spring COVID-19 booster shot program for those at the highest risk of severe infection, including those over 80 or who immunocompromised.
During the press conference, Henry presented some COVID-19 data they've been collecting.
She noted that over the past year in B.C., about 40 per cent of the deaths among people who tested positive for COVID-19 were directly related to the virus.
She also noted that age-standardized data shows people who've been vaccinated for COVID-19 continue to be less likely to be hospitalized or killed by the virus, but most people in the province now have “hybrid immunity,” due to both immunization and previous infection.
Henry said this hybrid immunity appears to be longer lasting than immunity from just immunization or previous infection.