People in Manitoba waiting on surgeries and tests that were delayed because of COVID-19 will soon be able to reschedule their appointments.
In March, the province pushed back non-urgent procedures to make sure it had enough hospital beds to deal with a possible surge in cases of the illness caused by the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Now, Manitoba is freeing up those beds to help catch up on the backlog of procedures like elective surgeries and non-urgent diagnostic ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans, Manitoba Shared Health’s chief nursing officer said at Thursday’s daily COVID-19 update.
Officials also announced at the briefing that the total number of COVID-19 cases identified in Manitoba to date had dropped by one, to 283, with no new cases reported and one previously identified probable case ruled negative.
Thirty-three cases are considered active, with 243 people who have recovered and seven deaths connected with the illness in Manitoba.
Five people were in hospital as of Thursday with COVID-19. None were in intensive care.
Health officials said late last month that the relatively low number of new cases in the province meant some non-urgent surgeries put on hold could be rescheduled.
Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said Thursday that from March 23 — the day Manitoba started delaying those procedures — until the end of April, about 3,000 surgeries were done in the province. That’s about one-third the number that usually would have been done in that time period.
Siragusa said diagnostic work was similarly affected in that timeframe.
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The province is now working on a plan that balances preparation for potential future surges of the illness and operational protocols that will allow those procedures to continue, she said.
“The decision to limit that activity at the time was the right decision to make, as we were making every effort to limit the spread of the virus, but there obviously is an impact and it is significant,” she said.
“Just because these are not urgent situations does not mean that they are not necessary.”
Siragusa said as clinical activity is being carefully ramped up across the province, patients will be scheduled based on clinical priority to get the care they need.
More operating room days are being added at most sites in all health regions across Manitoba, based on need, staffing levels and available personal protective equipment, she said.
But she added it’s hard to estimate how long it will take to catch up on the elective surgeries that were delayed because of the pandemic.
While there are typically fewer surgeries scheduled during the summer months, the province is looking at the possibility of doing more surgeries during that time to catch up on the backlog, Siragusa said.
“We’re looking short-term to schedule the surgeries. We’re watching and waiting to see what happens with COVID,” she said. “What we hope to do may not be what we will get to do.”
The province will keep a close eye on the number of cases of the illness in Manitoba. Health officials are confident they will be able to quickly pull some of these beds back to care for COVID-19 patients if needed, Siragusa said.
“Our experience in winding down surgery in March, when we were preparing for COVID, has demonstrated to us that if … we have a surge in COVID patients and we need extra inpatient capacity, it really is only a matter of days and we can free up those surgical beds.”
Health officials in the province, including infection control experts, will keep watching for evidence that suggests Manitoba may need to change any health-care protocols, said Siragusa.
“It’s a vital balance,” she said. “We have to ensure that we continue to provide the services, but also keep a vigilant watch on the COVID activity in our province.”
Bed use in intensive care, surgical and medicine units in Manitoba is well below norms for this time of year, a spokesperson for Shared Health said in an email.
As of Thursday morning, ICU beds (at Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, the Grace Hospital and the Brandon Regional Health Centre) had an occupancy rate of around 70 per cent, the spokesperson said. Out of 86 beds, 26 were not being used Thursday morning.
Manitoba has 2,432 funded acute beds, including those for medicine and surgery, the spokesperson said. The occupancy rate of medicine beds in Winnipeg is around 70 per cent, and below 60 per cent outside the city.
More than 60 per cent of surgical beds in Winnipeg were being used as of Thursday morning, the spokesperson said. Outside the city, surgical beds had an occupancy rate near 55 per cent.
The spokesperson said these numbers can change hourly, but that there has been no noticeable change in these statistics since the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Manitoba in March.
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“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Roussin said Thursday, defending the restrictions put in place in Manitoba to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Strict physical distancing measures have been shown to work in Manitoba and across the globe, he said, asking people to keep doing their part.
“If you take a look at many jurisdictions around the world, jurisdictions that were able to act quickly to implement these type of restrictions, you can see … fewer cases, fewer deaths,” he said.
“We’re reopening our economy quite a bit earlier than other jurisdictions are able to. So, I certainly hear people’s concerns they were restrictive measures, but they were required, and because of them we’re now able to reopen our economy at a safe time.”
No new cases in Brandon cluster
No new cases have been detected in the outbreak of the illness at a Brandon, Man., trucking company, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.
Roussin said the cluster of seven COVID-19 cases connected to that workplace wasn’t as big as it might have been.
“That number could have been higher, but for some of the precautions that workplace took,” he said, adding that the business grouped employees into small cohorts. Roussin said all cases identified were connected to a single group.
On Wednesday, 527 laboratory tests for COVID-19 in Manitoba were completed, bringing the total number of tests done in the province to 28,810.
Siragusa said there were 8,475 calls to Health Links this week — a jump of 4.4 per cent compared to the previous seven days. Wait times were between two and six minutes, she said.
The province’s new online portal to view negative test results for COVID-19, which launched on Monday, had 762 users in its first three days. The toll-free line set up for people without a Manitoba health card or internet access (1-844-960-1984) had 426 callers, she said.
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