Manitoba COVID-19 outlook ‘daunting’ as deaths rise to 190, with record 249 in hospital

Manitoba health officials announced 400 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths today as the number of patients in hospital continues to climb and strain the health-care system.

There are a record-high 249 people in hospital, with 40 of them in intensive care.

The five-day provincial test positivity rate also reached a new high of 14.2 per cent.

“We have been announcing concerning numbers,” said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin. “This is a very daunting time.”

Roussin also said there have been reports that someone is calling businesses, pretending to be him. He said he is not directly calling businesses.

“I think misinformation is a real negative thing right now,” he said. “There’s big work out there trying to convince people that this just isn’t important.… It’s very clear that our hospitals are reaching capacity.”

The entire province was moved to code red under the provincial pandemic response system just under a week ago, yet records continue to be broken daily, hospital beds continue to fill up and community spread is soaring. 

Contact tracing investigations have identified 500 cases in recent days that have no known source of exposure, Roussin said. 

A new $298 fine may now be issued to people not wearing masks at indoor public places, which is required under a current public health order.

The premier and Roussin have rolled out a series of efforts recently in order to ramp up enforcement in hopes of stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

190 deaths so far

So far, 190 people have died in Manitoba, the vast majority of them since the beginning of October.

Among the deaths announced Wednesday, five were people from the Winnipeg Health Region, including three linked to the Golden Links Lodge outbreak. There were three deaths in the Southern Health region, two in Interlake-Eastern, and one in Prairie Mountain.

All but one of the new deaths are people over age 60. A woman in her 50s from the Southern Health region is among the dead.

Roussin urged Manitobans not to leave their homes except for essential items, and he emphasized that people should not be going to stores for Black Friday sales.

He and the premier have criticized larger retailers and big box stores for attracting crowds over the weekend and advertising Black Friday sales this week. Some big box stores that sell a mix of essential and non-essential items were deemed critical and able to stay open, with no requirement that they limit non-essential goods.

“We’re going to look at ways that we can shore up those orders to try to ensure that that spirit is being followed,” he said, with officials considering tweaks to the order that could permit only the sale of essential items.

Half of the people in Manitoba intensive care units right now are COVID-19 patients, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health.

Some staff who normally work in surgery and other departments are being redeployed to medicine units to help with COVID-19 cases in hospitals, she said.

“It’s disruptive for our staff. It’s also really disruptive to our other patients,” she said.

Siragusa said 771 elective and non-urgent surgeries have been cancelled since Oct. 26.

“We just want to acknowledge how hard that is for people,” she said. “We apologize.… It’s something we have to do in the midst of this.”

Anyone needing urgent services through home care will continue to receive them, though Siragusa said others may see disruptions as the province diverts resources to the highest-priority areas in hospitals.

More than 300 health-care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the end of September, including 83 in the first week of November. Many have also been taken out of rotation for days or longer while waiting for test results after potential exposures.

3rd unit outbreak at HSC

An outbreak has also been declared at a third unit, GA3, at Health Sciences Centre.

So far, 29 patients and 23 staff at the hospital have tested positive in three unit outbreaks, and two patients have died, Siragusa said.

Conditions at Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach, a community with some of the highest infection rates per capita in the country, have begun to improve, Siragusa said. Last week, staff described the situation in the emergency room as overwhelming as hospitalizations spiked.

Siragusa also released details on isolation spaces for homeless or at-risk people who test positive or are waiting for test results. The first site, which has 39 spots, is full; the second space, with 22 spots, is near capacity; and a third, 140-spot site will open soon, she said.

Hospital numbers double

Roussin and Siragusa have repeatedly said in recent weeks that health-care workers are struggling to keep up with the influx of patients and can’t sustain the rising rates of hospitalization much longer. 

The number of people in hospital with the illness has more than doubled since Nov. 1 — from 120 to 249 — with nearly three dozen current patients under the age of 50.

The youngest person to die of COVID-19 yet in Manitoba, a woman in her 30s from the Interlake-Eastern health region, was reported Tuesday.

Nearly 90 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in the province have occurred since the beginning of last month.