System not at ‘breaking point’ yet despite rise in hospitalizations, Manitoba health minister says

Manitoba’s health minister tried to quell fears that hospitals in the province are at a breaking point, saying Tuesday that facilities are still able to manage despite a swift rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

As of Tuesday, a record-high 83 Manitobans were in hospital with the illness, including 15 in intensive care units.

Two Winnipeg hospitals — St. Boniface and Victoria — are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. The St. Boniface outbreak has been connected with three deaths, and the Victoria outbreak with one.

While Manitoba’s numbers are not trending in the right direction, Health Minister Cameron Friesen says the province’s health-care system still has capacity. 

“We’re conscious of the fact that there are more people in hospital now than there were just two weeks ago. Clearly that is not the direction that anyone in Manitoba would want the numbers to go in,” he told reporters at the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday.

“We are planning accordingly. We are not at a breaking point.”

Earlier this week, a Winnipeg doctor warned that the city’s ICUs are days away from being at capacity. 

Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a medical microbiologist and physician at St. Boniface Hospital, said earlier this week that he and his colleagues are worried Manitoba could get to a situation similar “to those the horror stories that you heard coming out of Europe back in April and May.”

“There’s still an opportunity to turn this around. It’s just that we’re getting to the point where it might be a tipping point,” Lagacé-Wiens said Monday.

Friesen said Tuesday the province is planning for all scenarios, which could include cancelling elective surgeries, as the province did at the start of the pandemic to redeploy staff.

“If the numbers continue to go in the wrong direction on COVID-19, then we have to think about how we would curtail those in order to keep people safe and be able to concentrate our efforts elsewhere.”

The province has also had plans in place for months to move patients out of hospitals to other places, he said. 

“Being able to decant patients who would be of less severity to other settings, those are plans that all Canadian provinces and territories have made. We are thankful that we have not had to at any point exercise those plans,” he said. 

The province is also bringing in an additional 50 contact tracers through a contract with the Red Cross, he said, which would double the province’s capacity. 

In recent weeks, several COVID-positive Winnipeggers have reported waiting as long as a week after their test to begin the process of detailing their close contacts to public health officers.

Liberals blast PCs for rising caseload

Manitoba Liberal Leader Douglad Lamont blasted the PC government for the rising caseload, saying the province eased restrictions too quickly this spring.

“We said that to the premier’s face in May: there’s nothing that makes Manitoba any different,” Lamont said. 

“He keeps talking about beating COVID-19. All we’ve ever done is hold it at bay, and this government opened the doors to it. And that’s why we have the cases we do, and there are no excuses for it.”

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he wants the province to give Manitobans more information on the province’s ICU capacity moving forward. 

“If one of the key things we’re trying to do by implementing further public health measures is to prevent our hospitals from hitting their upper limit, then I think Manitobans should be given a regular update on how close we are to hitting those limits,” the Official Opposition leader said. 

“The more information we have, the more we can all buy into these public health measures, and the more that will be able to stamp down COVID-19 together.”