Patients who test positive for COVID-19 may no longer be kept separate from other fully-vaccinated patients in Fraser Health hospitals, according to new guidance from the province’s largest health authority.
According to revised infection prevention and control recommendations dated Jan. 14 and obtained by Global News, COVID-19 cohorts are now being reserved for patients “requiring medical management of significant respiratory symptoms” due to the virus.
The document cites evolving epidemiology around the Omicron variant, which it says “generally causes mild disease particularly in fully vaccinated individuals.”
Patients who test positive for COVID, but who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic will be treated in the unit that “best serves their care needs,” with droplet precautions in place, according to the recommendations.
The guidelines go on to say that it is preferable to keep COVID-positive patients in single-occupancy rooms, but that if one is not available they can be placed in a multi-bed room “ensuring at least two metres of space from other beds.”
“Patients on droplet precautions should not share a room with high-risk patients including immunocompromised patients, patients with chronic cardiac or respiratory disease, neonates, and patients with other respiratory illnesses,” the guidelines state.
COVID-19-positive patients are only to be placed with fully-vaccinated roommates, and should have dedicated toileting, the guidelines add.
Global News attempted to ask Fraser Health president and CEO Dr. Victoria Lee about the new guidance during a teleconference about changes at the Peace Arch Hospital maternity ward on Thursday, but was told she would only take questions about the Peace Arch matter.
Fraser Health said it would provide a response to the cohorting issue later Thursday, but did not return a response by deadline.
Global News has requested clarification from the Ministry of Health whether the recommendations are in place in other health authorities or are unique to Fraser Health.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said more than 500 COVID-19 cases in hospital were in Fraser Health, where they accounted for as many as 10 per cent of patients in some facilities.
“It makes all of our systems of cohorting more difficult when we have record numbers of patients,” Dix said.
B.C.’s Hospital Employees Union said the policy change shows just how hard the latest wave of the pandemic has hit acute care.
“If Fraser Health has come to the point where they are no longer cohorting patients who have COVID-19, that is a real departure from past practice, and it’s a real indication of how serious things are in our hospitals,” spokesperson Mike Old said.
Old said isolation and cohorting has been a key part of the province’s infection and control measures, and said its elimination means the province should be taking a second look at what it’s doing to protect workers.
As of Thursday, there were more 891 COVID-positive patients in B.C.’s hospitals, including 119 people in critical or intensive care.The number of COVID cases in hospital dipped by four Thursday, the first time they have declined in more than two weeks.
The province has previously estimated that B.C. could see its peak of hospitalizations during the fifth wave this week.