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Thousands of B.C. health workers take sick days as COVID-19 spreads

Rural services in Interior, Northern Health closing or reducing hours
A nurse attends to a patient at the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital, July 2021. (The Canadian Press)

Almost 18,000 B.C. health care employees took one or more sick days between Jan. 10 and 16 as the health care system used rapid tests to minimize infection exposure in hospitals and senior care facilities, Health Minister Adrian Dix says.

That is down from nearly 20,000 employees the previous week, as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the world and exceeded lab testing capacity in B.C., Dix said at a briefing from Vancouver on Dec. 18.

Despite the absences, some scheduled non-urgent surgeries were able to proceed in all regional health authorities, although nearly 800 procedures had to be postponed the week of Jan. 9-15, he said.

Interior Health has had the greatest difficulty maintaining health services in the past year, with forest fires, flooding and road damage as well as the latest surge of the pandemic. They have been forced to temporarily close inpatient services in Clearwater, Invermere and Lillooet to stabilize emergency departments, and have reduced overnight hours at Ashcroft and Slocan Health Centres to maintain daytime services, Dix said.

Barriere and District Health Centre is closing to to transfer staff to nearby emergency departments. In Northern Health, “situation response teams” have been sent to assist site managers in Hazelton and Burns Lake, which are short-staffed in all services, Dix said. Long-term care facilities in Northern Health have suspended adult day programs and non-urgent home health services, as well as lab services in some communities.

RELATED: Interior Health reduces services with staff shortages

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“With guidance from the ministry, health authorities have devised temporary mitigation plans as well to maintain safe patient care,” Dix said. “They’ve already discussed postponement of some non-urgent scheduled surgeries as part of that. It remains our priority to sustain essential health care services throughout every region of the province while we work together to overcome COVID-19.”

B.C.’s health ministry has received 4.8 million rapid antigen tests and deployed 3.5 million of them to key areas, including acute care hospitals for testing of health care workers who have symptoms associated with coronavirus. Dix said shipments of more tests from Health Canada are arriving, and of this week’s deliveries, 150,000 more tests will go to replenish supplies at hospitals.

Another 115,000 rapid tests are being delivered to school districts for testing in K-12 schools, for a total of 300,000 sent for school use so far. Another 200,000 are being reserved for businesses and organization for their screening programs.


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