B.C. hospitals are quieter than they have been in living memory, with more than 4,000 beds cleared in recent weeks for an anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients.
That’s changing, Health Minister Adrian Dix says, as fear of going to hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic has begun to pass. Emergency room visits have begun to pick up again after Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry began reassuring people that hospital care is still available for those who need it.
Daily emergency visits fell below 3,000 on April 6, less than half what an average day saw in early March. As of April 21, there were 4,015 ER visits, still far below the 6,559 recorded on March 9 before the coronavirus emergency was declared, but rising.
“It’s one of the reasons why Dr. Henry and I have been saying to people that the health care system is there for you,” Dix said at the April 21 briefing. “There are many people struggling with non-COVID-19 related conditions right now, and that system is there for you.”
More than 14,000 scheduled surgeries for everything from cataracts to cancer have been postponed since the pandemic protocol at hospitals took effect March 17, although more than 8,000 scheduled procedures were considered urgent enough to do. The largest category of delayed surgeries is hip and knee replacements.
Dix and Henry are reluctant to specify when all but the most urgent scheduled surgeries can resume, but senior health ministry officials are working toward early May as long as B.C.’s COVID-19 cases remain low.
Henry said the pending return of scheduled surgeries, thousands of which have been postponed due to the pandemic, means public health orders have to be adjusted to allow urgent dentistry and physiotherapy to resume on a limited basis.
“It’s important to get back to physiotherapy,” Henry said. “It’s important for people who are recovering from those surgeries that are going to start again, for example.”
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital continues to decline, currently at 109 with 51 in intensive care units.