Hospitalizations will rise, but health system likely beyond COVID’s worst, top doctor predicts


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OTTAWA —Manitoba’s overworked and understaffed hospital system can expect another rise in COVID-19 admissions once the mask mandate and vaccine cards are discarded in the coming weeks.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/02/2022 (407 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA —Manitoba’s overworked and understaffed hospital system can expect another rise in COVID-19 admissions once the mask mandate and vaccine cards are discarded in the coming weeks.

If there’s good news, it’s that new numbers released by the federal govenment suggest admissions won’t exceed January’s peak.

In presenting the fresh modelling Friday, Canada’s top doctor said Manitobans should keep wearing masks indoors and get a booster shot to limit increased risk resulting from the province’s decision to drop pandemic restrictions next month.

“The Omicron virus will continue to circulate; it hasn’t disappeared and will probably continue at quite a high level for a number of weeks,” Dr. Theresa Tam said, in response to questions from the Free Press.

Tam oversees the Public Health Agency of Canada, which assembles modelling alongside McMaster University in Hamilton.

That team estimates how many cases have existed and will occur beyond those detected under limited PCR testing criteria. They use factors such as wastewater surveillance and the number of contacts people have, as well as vaccination uptake and efficacy.

The modelling suggests Manitoba could have as many as 14,000 new cases a day in mid-March, which is much higher than the peak of 8,000 estimated daily cases during the Christmas season.

Alternatively, there could be just 4,000 cases if there is less transmission.

Those numbers would have been unthinkable last year, though the Omicron variant is significantly more contagious — but less likely to send otherwise healthy people who get infected to hospital — than previous variant waves.

Ottawa predicts COVID-19 hospitalizations will go from a current average of 23 new admissions over the past five days in Manitoba, to a peak of about 30 next month — instead of the spike to 70 recorded Jan. 14.

That will likely strain the health-care system. On Thursday, Doctors Manitoba said the province’s surgical and diagnostic backlog stood at 161,585 procedures, a number that will continue to balloon.

Tam said regardless of whatever restrictions are in place, people know how to reduce their risk and help to lower the demands on the health-care system.

“Masking in indoors spaces when you’re not with your household members, that can potentially continue as a habit,” said Tam, who suggested “taking all the knowledge that you have gained over the last couple of years, in how to reduce risk based on your personal circumstances.”

The current peak of 70 hospital admissions in one day is much less dramatic than last month’s modelling, which warned there could be as many as 180 daily admissions related to COVID-19 by mid-January.

Tam welcomed that news, saying modelling is unpredictable and can nudge the public and policy-makers to be careful.

“That shows that people have really taken to heart some of the public health advice,” she said, adding that immunity from previous infections is still being studied, and that might help Manitoba fare better than what experts had forecast.

“The models don’t incorporate every single dynamic that is happening with immunity in the population. It’s also possible that quite a few infections have occurred, which provides more protection for a population as well,” she said.

In addition, she noted that provinces such as Manitoba continue to have pockets of high case spread in remote areas. Manitoba’s dashboard, for example, shows a large active case rate in Cross Lake.

“There are actually quite different virus activities within the provinces themselves. There are some northern areas that are still experiencing some high activities, compared to some of the bigger cities,” she said.

Overall, Tam said Canadians have reason to be optimistic as restrictions gradually loosen, though provinces should maintain surge capacity in case COVID-19 trends reverse, or the fall brings about a nasty flu season.

“If we don’t get another variant that is very significant, in terms of impacts, we should see a diminution of the Omicron wave and be able to return back to some of that normalcy,” she said.

“The idea is not to do that sort of yo-yo effect (such as) the last couple of years.”

Modelling Feb. 18, 2022

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