During much of this pandemic, tracking daily COVID-19 numbers has been a tool for health officials and the public to understand how the coronavirus is affecting our communities.
Now that Omicron cases have exploded in British Columbia and jurisdictions around the world, the daily number of cases is no longer a viable source.
“We are flying blind to the number of cases in the province,” said Dr. Sally Otto, a member of the independent BC COVID-19 modeling group. Otto is also the Canada Research Chair in Theoretical and Experimental Evolution at the University of British Columbia.
The latest figures from the province on Friday showed that there are currently 33,184 active and laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia, a record high since the start of the pandemic.
According to the last report from the modeling group, the active number of cases is probably around 250,000.
“I suspect that five percent of the population is currently infected with Omicron in British Columbia,” Otto said.
Provincial health worker Dr Bonnie Henry urged British Columbians at a December 24 press conference to only go to a testing center if they are showing symptoms because the province has reached its ability to perform PCR testing.
British Columbia is prioritizing these tests for people most at risk for complications from the virus, especially those over 65, those with weakened immune symptoms and people with severe symptoms.
PCR testing is also reserved for frontline healthcare workers, who need to be sure their symptoms are not COVID-19 in order to continue working in British Columbia’s extensive healthcare system.
“The reason we only see 3,000 to 4,000 reported cases per day is that we have capped the number of people we test,” Otto said.
The BC COVID-19 Modeling Group has been forced to seek other sources of information to track the number of infections in the province, which Otto said is important for people to know.
“It’s important that we have a sense of these numbers because what you do in your day-to-day life, the risks you take, depend a lot on the number of cases in your community,” said Otto.
Otto and his team resume tracking wastewater in the Lower Mainland. Wastewater can be an early warning signal for COVID-19 in a community and fill in gaps when testing is overcapacity.
“It helps us know when we are peaking and when the virus count is going down,” Otto said.
Otto is also asking business owners or managers who have staff on work stoppage due to COVID-19 to contact his team.
“If you’re running a business and you have information on the number of employees on sick leave, send us the data,” she said. “We can use information like this to say, This is the disease burden in the month of January. “
Health experts told CTV News that the good news about the Omicron wave is that the curve will tend to go down as quickly as it has gone up. Otto expects the province to be able to run a PCR test for anyone who experiences symptoms again by February.