Manitoba tops 400 deaths as a dozen more die of COVID-19, 325 test positive

Manitoba’s top doctor says nearly a month of widespread closures helped avert some worst case COVID-19 scenarios this fall, though even as those benefits surface, the high caseload and heavy toll on health-care and families continues.

“These restrictions have made a difference,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin. “We were obviously expecting them to go down further.”

Roussin announced 325 cases on Monday. Of 12 new deaths, nearly half are linked to care home or hospital outbreaks, and all involved people over 60.

The five-day test positivity rate is at 13.7 per cent provincewide and 14.6 for Winnipeg.

There are 310 people in hospital due to the illness, down 38 from Sunday, with 39 people in intensive care, down from 43 on Sunday.

A woman in her 60s from Southern Health, linked to Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre outbreak in the GA3 unit, is among the dozen deaths announced Monday. Half were in Winnipeg, two each were in the Southern Health and Northern Health regions, and one person died in the Prairie Mountain and Interlake-Eastern health regions. 

“These are all Manitobans lost to us,” Roussin said.

The latest deaths pushed Manitoba past 400 so far, and the announcement comes after a weekend when 33 deaths were reported — the deadliest two-day period so far, with a daily record 19 deaths on Saturday. 

Limited vaccine coming soon

The news comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday morning that several hundred thousand doses of vaccine will be available in Canada by the end of the year.

Roussin said it’s unclear how much of that shipment will come to Manitoba. The province is still working on its own rollout plan, he said.

“Even into the new year we are expecting very scarce [quantities],” he said.

Chipping away backlogs

Officials are also beginning to chip away at three different data backlogs.

Active case numbers are down significantly after the province worked to catch up with a weeks-long data backlog that didn’t track all recovered cases, Roussin said.

More than 4,000 cases previously listed as active were confirmed to be recovered, bringing the total posted active cases to about 5,400. Roussin said there’s still a backlog and the truer number is probably around 3,500.

The number in hospital has also dropped as a data backlog there has been partly cleared, Roussin said.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital decreased by 38 between Sunday and Monday. Officials said this was partly due to a backlog in tracking hospital patients who were no longer infectious. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Meanwhile, the province reported an additional 125 cases in health-care workers who have tested positive since March.

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, chalked this up to a backlog as well.

Roughly 70 health-care workers tested positive last week, among a total of 981 front-line workers who have tested positive since March.

She said improving the quality and accuracy of data shouldn’t be a sign that it’s OK to relax, pointing to hospital numbers and care home outbreaks. Critical care is 160 per cent more active than pre-COVID-19 activity, she said.

“They’re increasing at a pace that is really unsustainable,” Siragusa said.

Forty-eight care home outbreaks, including six with significantly higher volumes of positive cases than others, are active in Winnipeg.

Fairview in Brandon and the Grandview care home are also struggling with significant outbreaks, said Siragusa, prompting local home-care workers to be deployed to help out at these sites.

Officials also said a symptomatic person with COVID-19 attended a funeral at Sapotaweyak Cree Nation on Nov. 27, and people who were there should self-isolate and call the local health centre for instructions, Roussin said.

Code red update coming

Roussin urged Manitobans not to travel during the holiday season.

If you choose to travel outside of Canada, you could end up stuck abroad with reduced access to quality health-care, he said.

Friday will mark one month since widespread restrictions closed a range of businesses, places of worship and other services when officials implemented provincewide code red restrictions under Manitoba’s pandemic response system.

Despite tightening restrictions and a gradual ramping up of enforcement, Manitoba’s COVID-19 outlook has largely worsened in the past month.

Daily new cases appear to have plateaued recently, albeit in the 300 to 400 range, and provincial test positivity rates remain among the highest in Canada.

So do hospitalization rates per capita. Manitoba had just over 220 people with COVID-19 in hospital on Nov. 12 when even tighter restrictions came into effect and hit a record 361 in hospital late last week.

The latest weekly numbers also suggest Manitoba First Nations continue to be disproportionately impacted by coronavirus, and officials have said crowded housing could be a factor.

Currently, private indoor gatherings aren’t allowed, but Roussin said Monday that a lot of recent cases involve household contacts, crowded households and people living in low income situations.

Public gathering sizes are limited to five, though officials have implored Manitobans to altogether eschew non-essential gatherings with people who don’t live with them.

WATCH | Drive-in church service shouldn’t be happening, Roussin says:

Manitoba’s chief public health officers Dr. Brent Roussin explains why faith-based gatherings, even drive-in ones, are banned but retail operations can continue. 1:56

In-person church services have been cancelled for weeks, but a few churches have continued to hold in-person services in defiance of public health orders and enforcement officers.

Springs Church in Winnipeg sought an exemption to hold drive-in services, but a judge ruled against the request Saturday.

Roussin and the premier have both tried to brace Manitobans for a continuation of restrictions when the current provincial health order expires on Friday, suggesting the numbers aren’t where they need to be in order to safely restore some services.

Manitobans can expect an update on restrictions this week.

More than 19,000 Manitobans have tested positive to date, about two-thirds of them since the beginning of last month.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Dec. 7, 2020:

Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Monday, December 7, 2020. 47:43