17 University of Manitoba medical students infected with COVID-19 after formal party at Fort Garry Hotel

Less than two hours after Manitoba’s chief public health officer called a late Friday afternoon press conference to announce tighter health restrictions, cocktails started flowing at the University of Manitoba’s medical students’ annual winter formal event.

Two hundred students and 80 guests attended the party at the Fort Garry Hotel, including a spouse who was contagious but not yet diagnosed.

“A spouse of one of the students turned out to be to have COVID. They didn’t find that out until the next day. And subsequently, we’re aware of 17 of our students who are now positive,” said Ira Ripstein, associate dean of undergraduate medical education at the U of M’s Max Rady College of Medicine.

The event was put on by the Manitoba Medical Students’ Association, not the university. 

Ripstein has spoken to the president of the association.

“Hindsight is 20-20. But in retrospect, they probably should have pivoted their event. It was very short notice between when Dr. Roussin’s announcement came out.”

He said they followed the health orders that were in place at the time of the event even though they knew tougher measures were to come into effect Tuesday.

“Everyone was double vaccinated, at least, and wore masks when they weren’t at their tables,” said Ripstein, who was not in attendance at the event. 

Hotel owner took charge and started testing

Ida Albo, owner of the Fort Garry Hotel, says she acted quickly after receiving an email from the Manitoba Medical Students’ Association on Tuesday.

She says she pulled out the rapid tests obtained earlier from the province and tested everyone who has come into work. 

“We’ve had no incidents … all negative results on the tests,” said Albo.

She says on the night of the medical students’ party, the hotel took measures that went above and beyond public health requirements.

Managers were checking vaccination status and attaching wristbands to guests who had proper documentation. 

“It was so busy, if you didn’t have the wristband you wouldn’t get service.” said Albo. 

Albo says she has yet to hear from Manitoba public health officials, but understands they must be swamped. 

No severe illness reported

The infected students are at home and none have developed severe illness, something Ripstein attributes to the students’ double-, and in some cases, triple-vaccinated status. 

Ripstein says students did not see patients after they attended the event, since they wrapped up their last clinical days beforehand.

“It’s a good warning to the public that this variant is spreading incredibly rapidly and needs to be taken seriously,” said Ripstein. “Not only many of our students, but many of your listeners have changed their plans for over the holidays.”

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