Manitoba passes projected peak of 3rd wave COVID-19 cases, but hospitalizations expected to continue climb

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 close to the severe range.

The modelling considers the effect of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the U.K., also known as the alpha variant, but it doesn’t factor in 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.

Evidence suggests the delta variant in particular can be more transmissible and have more severe effects than other variants, Atwal said. That’s why Manitoba’s reopening plan and loosened public health orders announced this week are cautious, he said.

Atwal urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves against severe effects linked to the illness. He said in the first week of June, roughly 80 per cent of Manitobans hospitalized with the illness didn’t have immunity from inoculations. Seventy-three per cent hadn’t been vaccinated at all and seven per cent got infected less than two weeks after their first dose.

Only about 2.6 per cent of hospital admissions during that period had received both doses, though none had reached two weeks after their second shot, he said. No one fully vaccinated entered intensive care.

“We’re not sharing this information to blame people, but to show the importance and power of getting vaccinated,” Atwal said.

“Those numbers should really stand out to the power of the vaccine.”

He said people have failed to get immunized for a number of reasons, including hesitancy and lack of access to vaccines.

Atwal also announced 223 new cases and two more deaths linked to the illness at a news conference.

Most of the new cases 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.

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