Manitobans could overwhelm cottage country if they vacation during pandemic, health officials warn

By | March 30, 2020

An emergency room doctor in Kenora says his hospital will be overwhelmed if Manitobans continue to head to their summer homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We want people to respect the essential part of essential travel,” said Dr. Sean Moore, chief of emergency services at Lake of the Woods District Hospital.

“It’s not essential to go into a camp if you have another home in Winnipeg. Please, I would plead with people to try and respect the fact that we’re all trying to do our best to muck through this time of COVID.”

The Manitoba government is advising cottage owners not to go to their summer properties during the pandemic — in or out of province.

“Travelling to the cottage — to rural areas — where you might be seeking health care should you need, could potentially overwhelm those areas,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer.

‘Stay where your doctor is’

That’s the fear of Dr. Moore, who said he’s already seen Manitobans who decided to “weather the COVID storm” in their northwestern Ontario cottages. There are several issues with that idea, he said.

First, Dr. Moore said those Manitobans came back from international travel and decided to self-isolate in their cottages, but instead ended up in his emergency room for different reasons.

Next, five of the hospital’s physicians are quarantining with flu-like symptoms.

The backfill doctors from southern Ontario who would normally come and pick up shifts are working at their regular hospitals, or are quarantining themselves.

And finally, the local hospital only has four ICU beds.

Dr. Sean Moore is the chief of emergency ervices at Lake of the Woods District Hospital. (Submitted by Sean Moore)

“We’re talking to military, Doctors Without Borders, all kinds of people to see if there’s a way to get some help to dig us out of this mess when it comes to our communities,” said Moore.

Moore is urging Manitobans to stay in their main home — not their summer home.

“Stay where your doctor is. Because we can’t provide that care that’s going to be necessary,” he said.

“If for some reason, you need to get to the emergency department, it’s going to be a mess.”

Health before tourism

The Ontario government echoes those concerns. On Sunday, Premier Doug Ford urged people not to wait out the pandemic in cottage country. Now, the message has to get across to Manitobans, says Greg Rickford.

“Now we love Manitobans in Kenora. They’re our peeps,” said Rickford, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Kenora-Rainy River.

“But right now, we just can’t handle the load.”

Government and healthcare officials say the Lake of the Woods District Hospital would be overwhelmed if Manitobans summered at their cottages during the pandemic. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

Though limited travel is what’s best for the health of people in northwestern Ontario, Rickford says the local economy will suffer.

“The tourism sector, we anticipate, will be rocked by this,” said Rickford. “Hopefully we may be able to salvage part of this summer, but right now, it’s looking dicey.”

Distancing at the lake

The province is also asking Manitobans not to go to their cottages within our borders for the same reason:  possible stress on smaller healthcare facilities.

However, Winnipegger Jeff Douglas says he still plans to visit his Manitoba cottage on weekends while practicing safe physical distancing.

“I don’t disagree with the province saying don’t go because you might be taxing the system,” said Douglas who has property in Twin Lakes Beach, about an hour drive from his home in East Kildonan.

“But if I go up there and practice social distancing, and stay to myself — and just stay to the people that are in my cabin who are also part of my family that I’ve been with for the last two weeks anyway — what difference does it make?”

Douglas said if his cottage were in a different province, he wouldn’t go. But since it’s so close, and the lots are so far apart, he would still be able to self isolate safely.

He said his neighbours have been out to the lake, and expects that to continue.

“If we go out there and practice all the protocols and recommendations of the government, then what’s wrong with going out there and hanging out at your cabin instead of your house — which is right next door to your neighbour anyway,” he said.

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