Despite continuing reports of record COVID-19 cases and hospital numbers, British Columbia data now shows that half the province’s COVID hospitalizations since Dec. 1 were not people admitted because of COVID, but people who incidentally tested positive for the virus after being admitted for other reasons.

“So, it’s not COVID that’s driving them into hospital,” provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said at a briefing on Tuesday.

Data released Tuesday by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control shows that during December and January, more than 40% of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 – including 60% of Omicron cases – came to hospital for other reasons than COVID, and had “no or mild respiratory symptoms or other symptoms of COVID-19.”

The data gives much-needed context to reports of record-breaking COVID numbers in B.C., including more than 1,000 hospitalizations reported this week. It also shows that from Dec. 1 onward, patients testing positive for Omicron grew to 16-to-one over the Delta variant.

The release of this data also makes good on Henry’s promise in January to get a better picture of reasons for hospitalizations, admitting the existing numbers were “an overestimation of the burden that Omicron is causing.”

Henry had admitted on Jan. 7 that at the time, B.C. was counting everyone in the hospital with a COVID positive test as a hospitalization.

“We’re trying to tease apart people who are in hospital from COVID, people who are in hospital with COVID, and people who are in hospital because COVID exacerbated one of the underlying conditions,” she had said. “It’s not easy to do that, except by going and looking at every individual chart.”

The data released Tuesday also shows that Omicron infection was much less severe than with prior variants, including its effects on residents of long-term care homes.  

“The odds of being hospitalized with Omicron are much less,” Henry added.

Despite this data’s revelations and the specific context it provides for the highly infectious Omicron wave, legacy media outlets continued on Wednesday to report active cases and hospitalization numbers without proportional breakdowns.  

It was also reported that 73.7% of COVID-19 patients in hospital had received either one or two COVID shots, compared to 26.3% who were unvaccinated.

B.C. officials also confirmed that about 40% of COVID-19 deaths recorded in January involved seniors in care, with most others involving older people with underlying illness, a “high proportion” of whom weren’t vaccinated, according to Henry.

Amidst record-breaking COVID cases and hospitalizations, the government also reported that 89.9% of eligible B.C. residents aged five or older had received at least one COVID shot, and 84% had received two. 

This compared to 49.7% of adults who had opted for their third shots.