Health officials in British Columbia are clearing out hospital beds and moving ventilators around the province in the unlikely event that B.C.'s novel coronavirus outbreak reaches infection rates on par with Northern Italy.
Deputy health minister Stephen Brown laid out the province's worst-case scenario modelling for reporters Friday, describing how the demand for critical care equipment would outstrip the province's supply if B.C. followed Northern Italy's rapid COVID-19 case trajectory.
In such a scenario, B.C. would be short an estimated 1,778 acute care beds, with every provincial health authority overwhelmed by the demand.
According to the province's modelling, the Vancouver Island health region would be short 214 beds in an Italian-style COVID-19 outbreak; Fraser Health would be short 824 beds; and the Vancouver Coastal Health region would need an additional 258 acute care beds. The Interior Health region would be short 397 beds and the northern region would require an additional 143 acute care beds.
The deputy health minister said the province is preparing for just such a scenario over the coming weeks by moving non-urgent patients out of acute care beds and planning to distribute mobile ventilators and patients around the province.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said health officials won't know if they have enough ventilators until the outbreak fully runs its course, but she added officials believe that by moving patients and ventilators, they have "sufficient" coverage for the time being.
"We're looking at how do we effectively pre-position those [ventilators] in parts of the province where they might be needed to make sure that we have things in place if and when this progresses," Henry said.
Health officials have been working with the BC Ambulance Service to prepare for such a significant mobilization of patients between hospitals, if required, Brown said.
'Flattening the curve'
According to officials, public health measures such as travel restrictions, the closure of schools and businesses, and the enticement of physical distancing between residents, are showing positive signs of keeping infection rates low.
Without such public health orders in place, health officials estimate B.C. would currently have 215 cases per million people – or more than 1,000 cases province-wide. Instead, the current case rate is 130 cases per million.
Henry said she is hesitant to say conclusively that the province is "flattening the curve" of the infection rate but the results are nonetheless positive.
"The progress we are seeing changed from about 24 per cent [growth] per day down to about 12 per cent per day," Henry said.
The latest numbers Thursday show there have been 14 deaths and 725 cases of the virus in B.C.