Daily COVID-19 case counts are expected to continue to drop in Manitoba, but modelling unveiled by the province on Friday suggests hospitalizations linked to the illness aren’t finished climbing.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy chief provincial public health officer, says the projections show that while case numbers are no longer in the extreme scenario, hospitalizations remain in the moderate range and intensive care admissions are in the severe range.
“In the past few days, the overall number of people in ICU seems to have stabilized. However, it’s still an extremely high number and it isn’t sustainable,” Atwal said.
On Friday, there were 306 Manitobans hospitalized with COVID-19, the province said in a news release, marking a drop of 10 since Thursday.
Ninety-three of them were in intensive care, including 30 still in hospitals across Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan as Manitoba works to free up space in its overwhelmed health-care system.
Friday’s projections also don’t factor in the potential effects of the P.1 variant associated with Brazil or the B.1.617.2 strain linked to India — also known as the gamma and delta variants, though Atwal said work is underway to include those strains in future modelling.
Evidence suggests the delta variant in particular can be more transmissible and have more severe effects than other variants, which is partly why Manitoba’s reopening plan and loosened public health orders announced this week are cautious, he said.
“This is critically important,” Atwal said. “We must continue to watch the delta variant carefully to make sure we are aware of the possible impacts of this variant in Manitoba.”
Manitoba’s variant dashboard reported a jump in cases linked to several coronavirus variants on Friday. That included 17 new cases of the delta variant, 21 of the gamma variant and 93 of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the U.K., which is also known as the alpha variant.
Manitoba also reported 223 new cases of the illness on Friday. Atwal said the modelling suggests case counts should continue dropping by roughly 20 per cent each week.
Most ICU patients unvaccinated
In the first week of June, roughly 80 per cent of Manitobans hospitalized with COVID-19 didn’t have immunity from inoculations, Atwal said. Seventy-three per cent hadn’t been vaccinated at all and seven per cent got infected less than two weeks after their first dose.
In the same period, about 2.6 per cent of people admitted to hospital with the illness had received both doses, though no one fully vaccinated entered intensive care. Overall, nearly every Manitoban who wound up in intensive care with COVID-19 hadn’t been immunized against the illness, he said.
“We’re not sharing this information to blame people, but to show the importance and power of getting vaccinated,” Atwal said, adding that people have failed to get immunized for reasons ranging from hesitancy to lack of access.
WATCH | Majority of people in Manitoba ICUs unvaccinated, health official says
Atwal also announced two more deaths linked to the illness at a news conference.
Most of the new cases reported Friday are in the Winnipeg health region, which reported 126 new infections, the province said in a news release.
The rest are split among the Southern Health region (which announced 36), the Northern Health Region (27), the Interlake-Eastern health region (20) and the Prairie Mountain Health region (14).
The deaths announced on Friday are two women from the Winnipeg health region, the release said. One was in her 80s, the other in her 90s. The latter had contracted the more contagious alpha variant.
Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate dropped to 10.6 per cent from 11.1 on Thursday. Winnipeg’s sank to 11 per cent from 11.6.
Atwal’s announcement comes hours before Manitoba’s newest public health orders take effect on Saturday.
Those rules will allow outdoor gatherings of up to five people — though if the gathering is on private property, no more than three households (including the host) can be involved.
All other restrictions will stay in place, which means indoor private gatherings still won’t be allowed.
The latest restrictions will be in effect until June 26.
Opening plan unveiled
On Thursday, Manitoba unveiled the first look at its reopening plan, which will hinge largely on vaccination rates. That strategy involves three targets tied to holidays, with the first set for Canada Day.
If by then more than 70 per cent of Manitobans age 12 and older have received their first vaccine dose (and more than 25 per cent their second), the province plans to ease some capacity limits, officials said.
However, some infectious disease experts say the plan lacks key details — especially with the recent surge of cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant that vaccines appear to be less effective against.
The province also announced a lottery earlier this week as an incentive for people to get vaccinated. Adults who get immunized against COVID-19 will be entered to win $100,000, while those 12 to 17 could get a $25,000 scholarship if they get vaccinated.