Health system prepares for COVID patient spike as pandemic restrictions end

Manitoba Shared Health is planning for another spike in hospital admissions for COVID-19 now that public health restrictions have been eliminated.

Manitoba’s indoor mask mandate, in place since August, ended early Tuesday morning. So did mandatory isolation for people infected with COVID-19.

In a new COVID-19 recovery plan made public Tuesday, Shared Health said it is preparing for a potential spike in COVID transmission in the coming weeks.

As of Tuesday, Manitoba had 410 COVID patients in hospital, including 18 in intensive care. 

“While Manitoba moves into the next phase of pandemic management, with recommendations replacing requirements and public health restrictions, it is anticipated that COVID-19 activity will increase and hospital admissions and ICU admissions may also rise,” the document says.

To handle an expected rise in serious COVID-19 infections, Shared Health intends to maintain ICU capacity at 110 beds, with 87 devoted to adult medical patients and 23 to cardiac patients.

As of Monday, the most recent day for which data is available, Manitoba had 91 patients in intensive care.

Shared Health also plans to reduce the ICU patient burden by administering antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies to COVID patients at the highest risk of serious outcomes.

As of March 9, Manitoba had dispensed 212 oral antiviral treatments and 502 doses of monoclonal antibodies, which are administered intravenously, the COVID recovery plan says.

“These treatments must be offered very quickly after symptom onset, so nearly immediate testing and referral is required in order for treatment to be given in the five-to-seven-day eligibility period,” the document says.

At the same time as it braces for more patients, Shared Health says it is planning to return hospital operations to normal.

The recovery document says surgeries have already returned to pre-pandemic levels at Victoria General Hospital in Winnipeg and “various facilities” in the Prairie Mountain Health and Southern Health regions.

This week, the return of staff who were seconded to COVID care will allow normal operations at Victoria Hospital, the resumption of endoscopies at Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg and more cardiac surgeries at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital, the document says.

Next week, organ transplants are slated to resume at Health Sciences Centre and endoscopies will return to Seven Oaks hospital, the plan says. 

Other services will return later in March to Boundary Trails Hospital between Winkler and Morden, Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach and hospitals in Carman and Portage la Prairie, the document says.

There is little detail about efforts to further reduce the backlog of surgeries and other diagnostic procedures that piled up during the pandemic. Doctors Manitoba estimates no fewer than 161,000 have been put off or cancelled.

As well, Shared Health plans to continue transferring patients between hospitals to free up room in the hospital system.

“Inter-region transfers will continue and may increase in the coming weeks as weather can be expected to play less of a limiting factor,” the report says.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon has been asked to comment.