The B.C. Ministry of Health has released a detailed plan to manage health care needs of the population as the pandemic progresses through the fall and winter of this year and into the next.
The highlights of this plan include building up health care capacity, focusing on regional adjustments in hospitals rather than postponing scheduled surgeries across the province, purchasing flu vaccines and launching an influenza immunization campaign.
The Ministry has received an operating budget increase of $1.58 billion and capital budget increase of $150 million for the 2020/21 year for their COVID-19 response.
Out of this amount, $850 million has already been announced for initiatives like increasing contact tracing staff, purchasing more personal protective equipment, and single site staffing.
One of the focus points moving forward will be to build up COVID-19 assessment and testing capacity to 20,000 per day in the upcoming colder months. This measure will prevent delays in testing during a surge period, like what Vancouver Island Health region experienced in August.
Up to 2,000 new staff members will be hired across all assisted living and long term care facilities to enhance infection prevention and control practices.
In addition, the province will be hiring up to 5,000 new health care aides, cleaning and food service staff across the health care sector.
These 7,000 new health care support employees will be recruited amongst out-of-work hospitality sector workers, and offer a starting salary of $20/hour.
Public health officials are also working on implementing surge capacity beds at the 19 hospitals designated for COVID-19 patients—in VIHA, these are Royal Jubilee Hospital, Victoria General Hospital, and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital—and all hospitals can be used if these sites are not sufficient.
Unlike in spring when all scheduled surgeries across B.C. were delayed to keep hospitals available for COVID-19 patients, Brown says now the province will be responding and making adjustments on a regional and sub-regional basis.
The Ministry’s plan was informed by looking at hospitalization trends in previous non-pandemic years where more influenza patients were treated in hospital during the fall and winter months.
In order to minimize the number of patients who contract the flu—the symptoms of which are similar to that of COVID-19—and thus put pressure on the testing and health care system, the province is launching an extensive immunization campaign.
Thus far, health officials have purchased 1,965,000 doses of the flu vaccine for the general population and 45,000 doses of Fluzone-High Dose immunizations for long term care and assisted living facility residents.
“We learned when we were watching what was happening in the Southern hemisphere that there was a lot of demand for influenza immunization. They had a fairly mild influenza season partly because they had high population immunization,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry at a technical briefing for members of the media.
“There is no intent to have a mandatory immunization program but we do expect there will be increased demand and we want to encourage people.”
These vaccine will be available in school settings, at pharmacies, and at clinics.