COVID-19 hospitalizations drop by 9 in Manitoba but still too early to say if virus has peaked

Manitoba public health officials report three new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and a nine-patient decline in hospitalizations.

There are now 720 people in hospital with the illness. That includes 49 in intensive care units — the same number as Tuesday.

The province’s death toll related to COVID-19 is now 1,524, elevated in large part by 132 deaths in January alone. That makes it the fourth-deadliest month of the pandemic, so far.

The three worst months were all during the second wave: December 2020 (355), November 2020 (243) and January 2021 (162).

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin could not say what proportion of Manitoba’s deaths this month were related to the Delta coronavirus variant, which drove the second wave of COVID-19 cases, and how many are due to the Omicron variant.

Determining that is difficult because it would require the sequencing of results of the variant in every person who died, he said.

The latest deaths are a man in his 70s and a woman in her 90s, both from the Winnipeg health region, and a woman in her 90s from the Interlake-Eastern health region linked to an outbreak at the Betel Home personal care home in Selkirk.

More details were also released about seven deaths reported Tuesday on the province’s online dashboard.

They include two men — one in his 50s and one in his 60s — from the Winnipeg region.

The remainder are all from the Southern Health region: two men in their 70s, a woman in her 70s and two men in their 80s.

“Hospitalization rates are high, although stable, and the same goes with ICU admissions at this point,” Roussin said. “We’re continuing to see a significant amount of spread of COVID-19 in the community.”

There were another 637 cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday — the same number of cases reported Tuesday — although Roussin repeated that the numbers are a significant underestimate of the actual number of new cases each day.

Many people are now using rapid tests, the results of which are not entered into the provincial database, and Manitoba has strictly restricted access to PCR tests at provincial sites to protect capacity.

Close to half of the latest reported cases are in the Winnipeg health region, which has 303.

There are another 110 in the Prairie Mountain Health region, 106 in the Northern Health Region, 71 in the Southern Health region and 47 in the Interlake-Eastern health region.

A breakdown of the latest cases by vaccination status can be viewed on a chart on the government website.

Despite the high numbers of hospitalizations and daily deaths, there is some evidence the pandemic’s current wave could be receding in Manitoba.

Wastewater monitoring done by the National Microbiology Laboratory suggests the virus that causes COVID-19 was found in the largest quantities in Winnipeg at the beginning of January.

“However, since then we haven’t seen a dramatic decline and have seen quite variable levels, so we do have to keep a close eye on that information,” Roussin said.

“It’s still early to describe where, definitively, we are in this wave. We do know for sure that the virus is very much present in our communities and circulating.”

The province is working with scientists at the National Microbiology Lab to analyze the data.

As far as public health restrictions, which are set to expire on Feb. 1, Roussin said an announcement will come soon on whether they will again be extended, reduced or changed in any way.

The current orders first went into effect on Dec. 21 and were extended in early January.

A new subvariant of Omicron, known as BA.2, has been detected in various countries, threatening to prolong the current wave of infections, but Roussin said it has not yet been found in Manitoba. 

BA.2 has drawn the attention of virologists since it started to tick upward in multiple countries, including early signals of a slight rise in Canada, suggesting it may be even more transmissible than its predecessor. 

New outbreaks have been declared at:

  • Misericordia Place in Winnipeg.
  • Health Sciences Centre, GB3 unit, in Winnipeg.
  • Eriksdale Personal Care Home in Eriksdale.
  • Swan Valley Health Centre, extended treatment unit, in Swan Valley.

Previously announced outbreaks are now over at the Children’s Hospital, CK5 oncology unit, in Winnipeg, the Seven Oaks General Hospital, units 4U4-7 and 4U8-12, in Winnipeg, the Brandon Regional Health Centre, 400 medical unit, and the Thompson General Hospital, obstetrics and neonatal unit.

Vaccine teams visit shelters

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force, said at Wednesday’s news conference that vaccination teams are visiting Winnipeg shelters to ensure people without reliable housing have access to a vaccine.

“Many people who are living in shelters now are eligible for their third dose,” she said.

The approach has varied in other regions. Vaccine clinics have been offered at food banks or near alternative isolation sites, or through community organizations. Other groups that work with vulnerable people have offered transportation to existing clinics.

“It’s hard to get an exact tally of how many doses were given because of these outreach efforts, because they vary so much from community to community,” Reimer said.

The vaccine program in schools is continuing, with nearly 60 clinics scheduled for this week, plus more than a dozen after-school clinics, she said. More than 15,000 doses have been given through the school-based clinics since September.

Nearly 9,700 of those doses have been given to kids age five to 11. Adults are eligible to visit the after-school clinics, which has led to nearly 4,300 people over 18 getting at least one dose.

5-11 age group lags in uptake

As of Wednesday, 68,993 first doses have been given to children age five to 11, or 55.2 per cent of that age group.

Reimer urges parents to get their kids vaccinated to bump that number up, saying they are lagging in their uptake and only beginning to get their second doses.

“We need to get the numbers higher in this group. We really want to protect all of the children in Manitoba,” she said.

So far, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has not yet recommended a third dose for those aged 12 to 17. It is possible that won’t happen, Reimer said, adding it would only be recommended if deemed to be a benefit.

Younger people may already get sufficient protection against COVID-19 from their first two doses because they have fewer risks for severe outcomes and, generally speaking, because they have a stronger immune response, she said.

“Regardless of what NACI says for a third-dose recommendation for teens, I do want to reinforce the importance of them getting their first and second dose when they’re eligible,” Reimer said.

Overall, across the province as of Wednesday, 85.5 per cent of eligible Manitobans have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 79 per cent have had at least two and 39 per cent have had three, the provincial vaccine dashboard says.

The total number of doses administered in the province is now at 2,719,447, with 2,110 more scheduled to be given on Wednesday.

Enforcement

The province also provided an update Wednesday on enforcement of public health orders, saying 1,800 inspections occurred during the week of Jan. 17-23, resulting in 34 warnings and 37 tickets issued.

The total amount of fines handed out was $11,726.

There were 35 tickets for $298 each handed out for failure to wear a mask in an indoor public place, while one $1,296 ticket was given to an individual.

Of those 37 tickets, 36 were issued in the Southern Health region and one in the Winnipeg area.

A Winnipeg burger restaurant that is accused of repeatedly breaking public health orders will have its fine for offences under the Public Health Act determined by the courts.

It’s the second time an information has been laid against Monstrosity Burger on Corydon Avenue.

Fines for each offence could go as high as $1 million.

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