Winter is here, Manitoba: Current pandemic snapshot is grim, but there are encouraging signs

By | October 21, 2020

Whether it’s a blanket of lake-effect snow at Berens River or a smattering of white stuff in Winnipeg, it’s never encouraging when winter arrives before Halloween.

The unseasonable weather — it’s about 10 C colder than normal this week in southern Manitoba — is only adding to the pandemic gloom that settled in around the time the leaves started turning yellow.

There’s no nice way to say it: Manitoba is faring worse than it has at any moment since COVID-19 first arrived in the province in March. 

The past few weeks have given the province record case counts, more frequent deaths due to the disease, record test-positivity rates and record hospitalizations.

At the same time, there are some reasons to remain positive, above and beyond the obvious notion a little extra effort on the part of most of us can vastly reduce the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Here is a brief snapshot of where Manitoba stands at the moment.

1. Every province west of Atlantic Canada is hurting

In Ontario and Quebec, they’re calling it a second wave. In many respects, it’s the first real wave to hit Manitoba.

COVID-19 cases are spiking in every Canadian province west of New Brunswick. While this serves as no consolation to anyone who contracts the disease, it should temper the sentiment that Manitoba is unique in allowing the pandemic to return with a vengeance.

(Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

There are numerous reasons for the resurgence in Manitoba. Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin has cited bar-hopping adults in their 20s as one vector. Health Minister Cameron Friesen said too many Manitobans were high-fiving after a couple of weeks without a case in July.

Some Manitobans may wish to lay the blame at the feet of a government that waited too long, in the eyes of opposition critics, to elevate Winnipeg to orange on the pandemic response system.

Regardless, the only Canadian regions doing well right now are Atlantic Canada and the territories.

2. Winnipeg remains a Canadian hot spot

Among the most populous urban areas in Canada, Quebec City is faring the worst right now.

Over the past seven days, there have been an average of 25 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people each day in Quebec’s National Capital health region, which includes Quebec City, according to the pandemic dashboard run by geographic-information company Esri Canada.

The Montreal health region is second, with 14 new cases a day per 100,000, followed by the Edmonton health region with 13.

The Winnipeg health region now ranks fourth with 10 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, edging out the health region encompassing Toronto, which stands at nine per 100,000.

Unlike the number of active cases in Winnipeg, which appears inflated due to a backlog in reporting COVID recoveries, this statistic paints a very clear picture of the recent spike.

3. Northern Manitoba is no longer immune

When the H1N1 epidemic came to Manitoba more than a decade ago, remote First Nations suffered disproportionately.

Keeping COVID-19 away from vulnerable Indigenous communities was one of the province’s top priorities when the pandemic started. The firewall finally failed in October.

(Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

The chart above illustrates the growth of cases in northern Manitoba this fall, as well as the spike in the Interlake-Eastern health region, home to the Remote Northern health district that includes Little Grand Rapids.

4. Schoolchildren are passengers, not drivers

When Manitoba schools reopened their doors in September, some parents and teachers feared the worst, expecting each kid to spread COVID-19 like a pandemic plague rat.

Instead, elementary and high school students have proven to be somewhat lousy at distributing the virus.

Across Manitoba, there have been outbreaks at a grand total of two schools. The John Pritchard outbreak in North Kildonan is over, while the outbreak at Bird’s Hill School in East St. Paul has just begun.

(Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

But as the chart above demonstrates, the number of COVID-19 cases among school-aged Manitobans barely reflects the spike in cases in this province overall since the return of school.

Most schools with cases have had only one or two cases. Roussin, citing epidemiogical studies, has said it appears the youngest schoolchildren are less adept at transmitting the virus.

5. Hospitals are busier, but not overwhelmed

Manitoba hit a new record on Tuesday, when the province reported 32 patients are now in hospital with COVID-19.

This is concerning, as hospitalization numbers tend to lag behind new cases.

(Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

On the plus side, the number of serious COVID-19 cases in Manitoba is close to two per cent of the active caseload. That’s at the lower end of the worldwide average.

This is partly because people in their 20s are the most infected demographic. But it’s also encouraging in that it shows Manitoba can experience a serious spike in cases without overloading the health-care system.

Since the start of the pandemic, the main goal of provincial response has been to prevent too many patients from showing up at hospitals at the same time.

That aim, at the very least, has been met.

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