B.C.’s provincial health officer urged businesses to set up COVID-19 safety plans and prepare to work with reduced staff as the Omicron variant sweeps the province.
The new variant, Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a Tuesday (Jan. 4) press conference, has replaced Delta across most of B.C. It is considered to be more infectious – but potentially more mild – and has a shorter incubation period, down to three days. Henry said that 80 per cent of all cases in B.C. are now Omicron.
“This strain of the virus is different,” Henry said, both in terms of the shorter incubation period but also a shorter period of illness. Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are “slowly creeping up,” she added.
“It’s longer the case, that we have three or four degrees of separation, that you know, somebody who knows somebody may be that might have contracted the virus” Henry said. “The rate of transmission that we’re seeing now in British Columbia, like many other jurisdictions around the world, means that at this point, most people in B.C. likely have a friend or a family member or a colleague who has been infected with the Omicron variant.”
Given how fast COVID is spreading, Henry said that businesses should prepare for as many as one-third of their staff members to be off sick at a time. She said however that there are steps businesses can take to reduce Omicron’s variant: work from home if possible and if not, stagger shifts and minimize the number of employees and clients in a workspace at the same time. Henry said that staggering lunch breaks, using barriers, wearing well-fitted three-layer masks and asking for employees’s vaccination status can help slow transmission and keep businesses operating.
The province reported more than 9,000 cases over the New Year’s long weekend. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that invitations for booster shots have gone out to about 40 per cent, or 1.5 million, individuals. Everyone who is six months out from their second dose is expected to get their booster invite by the end of the week.
Henry said that the pandemic in B.C. was entering a stage where business sectors know how to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and that she was hoping to wind down provincial health orders.
“We don’t have to force places to close to get people to do the right thing,” she said, adding that the point of both the orders and voluntary measures was to slow the spread of the virus to not overload the health-care system and to keep schools open.
Closing schools, she added, is a last resort because a lack of in-person learning can have “downside effects on growth and development” for children that could affect them after the pandemic is over.