Manitoba’s top doctor is urging the public to look beyond the numbers and reflect on a staggering loss of lives in a short time, after he revealed a dozen more people have died from COVID-19 as of Tuesday.
That brings Manitoba’s pandemic death toll to 248.
“These are Manitobans who are missed and are loved,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 update.
He announced 476 new cases of the illness, just over half of them identified in the Winnipeg health region. Almost a quarter are in Southern Health, and the remainder are spread more or less evenly across the Prairie Mountain, Northern, and Interlake-Eastern health regions.
The number of patients in hospital due to the illness has declined slightly to 292, down from a record 296 Monday. Active cases in intensive care are also down five, to 47.
The five-day provincial test positivity rate ties the record of 14.2 per cent, which was set less than a week ago. Winnipeg’s test positivity rate is 13.9 per cent.
The latest numbers come one day after Manitoba topped 500 new cases in a day, and nearly two weeks since all of Manitoba was moved into the red, or critical, level under its pandemic response system. That ushered in a partial lockdown that closed places of worship, theatres, salons, gyms and a range of other non-essential businesses.
More stringent restrictions came into effect last Friday, banning private indoor gatherings, with few exceptions, and restricting the sale of non-essential items at businesses permitted to remain open to in-store shopping.
Since the red-level restrictions were implemented, 125 deaths have been reported, nearly doubling the number of COVID-19 deaths in the province. The vast majority have been people over the age of 60, but last week, the deaths of three people under 40 were reported.
Over a third of Manitoba’s total of 14,558 COVID-19 cases to date have emerged since the critical-level restrictions went in place.
New automated contact system
The province is bolstering its contact tracing capacity using an automated calling system that will expand current monitoring methods, Roussin said.
People who were previously notified about positive test results will get automated calls about testing, isolation and other public health guidelines in a question-and-answer format that people can respond to using the phone keypad.
The initial rollout will be focused on checking in with people who tested positive and are at or near the end of their mandated isolation period.
The number of active cases in the province has been an unreliable statistic for weeks due to a backlog in confirming cases are resolved.
There are “a lot” of people that are beyond their incubation period but remain listed in the active case totals, Roussin said, and automated calling should help deal with that backlog.
As of Tuesday, based on a proxy calculation of cases 10 days after diagnosis, the true active case load is likely around 3,363, he said.
Despite a slight decline in the number of patients in hospital, health-care workers remain overwhelmed, Roussin said.
“Our health-care system can’t sustain levels of cases like this much longer,” he said.
The crush of numbers in hospitals is expected to peak in mid-December, Roussin said.
Code red restrictions are in place until Dec. 11. Before they can be lifted, there has to be a clear decline in daily cases, test positivity and numbers in hospital, Roussin said.
“No doubt we’ll have to extend restrictions in some way,” he said. “We have to focus on getting these numbers down.”
Nearly 100 tickets issued last week
At a morning news conference, Premier Brian Pallister said 95 tickets were issued last week to people violating current public health orders, as the province ramps up enforcement.
He also shared details about COVID-19 financial support programs for businesses forced to close during recent widespread restrictions.
Both Tuesday news conferences come after a record-breaking 546 cases were announced yesterday.
Manitoba also reached another grim milestone on Monday, surpassing 14,000 total cases to date, meaning one in 100 Manitobans have contracted the virus.
All three records occurred on the same day Roussin shared the first hint that provincewide code red restrictions may be working. The average number of close contacts of positive cases has declined from about seven a month ago to closer to two more recently, he said.
Deaths linked to outbreaks
Almost half of all Manitoba COVID-19 deaths so far are linked to care-home outbreaks — with more than a quarter tied to the Parkview Place and Maples care homes in Winnipeg.
Five of the deaths announced Tuesday were people between the ages of 70 and 99 in the Southern Health region. Three of those are linked to outbreaks care homes: the Rest Haven Nursing Home and Oakview Manor in Steinbach, and Villa Youville personal care home in Ste. Anne.
Another four of Tuesday’s deaths are linked to outbreaks in the Winnipeg health region. Those include two men in their 60s linked to outbreaks St. Boniface Hospital and Health Sciences Centre. A woman in her 60s the St. Norbert personal care home and a man in his 80s from Parkview Place also died.
A woman in her 60s from the Winnipeg region was also among the deaths announced Tuesday.
One new death is a woman in her 70s from the Northern Health region, and another is a man in his 90s from the Prairie Mountain Health region tied to the Fairview Personal Care Home outbreak.
Roussin said there is a lot of misinformation spreading about COVID-19 deaths that suggests the disease itself isn’t that dangerous, since most deaths involve people with underlying health conditions.
He cautioned against this line of thinking.
“This doesn’t minimize the impact of COVID at all,” he said. “It most definitely does not minimize the loss.”
Mental health resources for Manitobans are available on the province’s website.
WATCH | Roussin address misinformation, underscores impact of loss:
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