‘It was just a matter of time’ With all pandemic restrictions lifted, masked and vaxxed Manitobans getting COVID for first time

After avoiding COVID-19 infection for two years, many Manitobans are testing positive for the first time, as hospitals brace for a potential spike in admissions now that restrictions have ended.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/03/2022 (196 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After avoiding COVID-19 infection for two years, many Manitobans are testing positive for the first time, as hospitals brace for a potential spike in admissions now that restrictions have ended.

Experts say it will likely be a week or two before hospitals begin to see an impact from the province’s removal of pandemic public health orders, including the lifting of the mask mandate and nixing isolation rules for COVID-positive Manitobans.

SUPPLIDE Brandon Coun. Shaun Cameron tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday, despite taking precautions such as continued mask-wearing.

Brandon city Coun. Shaun Cameron received positive rapid antigen test results Sunday even though he continued to wear a mask and take precautions after all remaining rules ended on March 15.

“I think masking and being triple vaccinated have made (my) case less severe,” said Cameron, 42, whose symptoms include a sore throat, nasal congestion and shortness of breath.

He’s isolating in his basement to avoid contact with his wife and two daughters, who have tested negative.

Cameron said Manitobans still need to make “good” public health decisions, such as wearing a mask, even if the province has ditched restrictions.

“We want to ensure we’re protecting the people who need to be protected the most,” he said.

SUPPLIED Winnipegger Nicole Woelke and her daughter Ella. Both tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.

Winnipeggers Nicole Woelke, 46, and her daughter Ella, 18, had mild cases of COVID after testing positive on March 10. Both have since tested negative.

“We’ve done every single thing right for two years,” said Woelke, who works in data intelligence. “I feel like as soon as things started lifting and opening… it was just a matter of time. We can’t pause life much longer. I understand that, but I don’t think people are done getting sick.”

Woelke, who is triple vaccinated, said it was “irresponsible” of the province to scrap mandatory isolation for people infected with COVID. Instead, people are now recommended to self-isolate for five days.

We can’t pause life much longer. I understand that, but I don’t think people are done getting sick.” – Nicole Woelke

Mike Gordon, an engineer who lives in Winnipeg, had a positive rapid test result Sunday. He had avoided the virus until then.

“It was a good run,” the 47-year-old said while isolating at home.

Gordon said he didn’t abandon precautions such as mask wearing when the rules ended, but he was “scaling back” in some situations.

If people are catching COVID despite taking precautions, “then what’s (the virus) doing in communities where people are celebrating no restrictions?” he asked.

“Unless you’re planning to stay home, it’s going to be difficult to avoid (COVID) over the next few months,” said Gordon, whose symptoms include a cough and congestion. “The government lifted restrictions and kind of left us on our own.”

“Unless you’re planning to stay home, it’s going to be difficult to avoid (COVID) over the next few months.” – Mike Gordon

Dr. Ganesan Abbu, an anesthetist and special care unit doctor at Boundary Trails Health Centre between Winkler and Morden, said COVID admissions are down at the hospital, but he believes prevalence in the community is “still high.”

“I have a sense people are either getting mild disease or they have been exposed previously in the (Southern Health) region, and that is why we’re not seeing an uptick in admissions,” he said.

Dr. Julie Lajoie, a research associate working in virology and immunology at the University of Manitoba, said studies have shown the risk of transmission is low if a COVID carrier and a healthy person are both wearing a mask.

The risk is medium if one isn’t wearing a mask, and it is high if neither is masked.

SUPPLIED Winnipegger Nicole Woelke (right), who is triple vaccinated, said it was “irresponsible” of the province to scrap mandatory isolation for people infected with COVID-19.

Lajoie cited a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, which found a respirator mask such as an N95 or KN95 can reduce a person’s odds of catching COVID by 83 per cent in an indoor public place.

A surgical mask can cut the likelihood by 66 per cent and a cloth mask by 56 per cent, according to research published Feb. 4.

U of M Prof. Andrew Halayko, who studies pulmonary health, said N95 and KN95 masks offer a mitigation rate of about 70 to 90 per cent.

“They certainly work, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “Nothing is perfect, but 70 per cent is pretty darn good.”

CP ROGELIO V. SOLIS / ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO U of M Prof. Andrew Halayko, who studies pulmonary health, said N95 and KN95 masks offer a mitigation rate of about 70 to 90 per cent.

Experts say the government doesn’t have a grip on the true scale of COVID in Manitoba due to a lack of testing and contact tracing.

“It’s difficult to get a true measure of what’s happening,” said Abbu.

“We have absolutely no idea how many cases are out there,” said Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson.

Lajoie said Manitobans are “in the dark,” as students prepare for spring break activities and families get set for Easter gatherings.

A source at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg said its emergency room has seen an uptick in COVID patients in the last week.

“I’m not sure if it is a blip or something more sinister. I think it’s too early to say,” the source said. “I have seen several vaccinated people with mild COVID or completely asymptomatic, as well as unvaccinated people who need the ICU.”

“I have seen several vaccinated people with mild COVID or completely asymptomatic, as well as unvaccinated people who need the ICU.” – Source at Health Sciences Centre

Grace Hospital intensive care physician Dr. Doug Eyolfson said he wouldn’t be surprised if hospitalizations increase in the coming weeks.

“The danger is out there, and we’re nervous we’re going to see another wave,” he said. “The system is still running at or almost at 100 per cent capacity. Even a slight rise in cases is going to make things much worse.”

Jackson said there is a “significant” number of nursing vacancies.

“If we do have another influx (of COVID patients), I’m not sure how we’re going to handle it,” she said.

Abbu encouraged Manitobans to be vigilant and continue to take basic precautions. People who feel ill are urged to stay home.

“I think there’s a sense that people feel COVID is over. I hope it’s the end, but the reality is COVID is going to be around for a long time yet, and we need to be cautious,” he said.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

SUPPLIED Winnipegger Nicole Woelke’s daughter Ella picked up rapid tests at various locations the city in one trip, so they wouldn’t have to go out repeatedly.
SUPPLIED Ella made a “work of art” from their positive rapid tests.
SUPPLIED “I think masking and being triple vaccinated have made (my) case less severe,” said Brandon Coun. Shaun Cameron whose symptoms include a sore throat, nasal congestion and shortness of breath.
SUPPLIED Winnipegger Nicole Woelke and her daughter Ella made a “rapid testing bar featuring our favourite local brewers.”

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 10:32 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

Updated on Thursday, March 24, 2022 10:22 AM CDT: Swaps out image.

Updated on Thursday, March 24, 2022 11:40 AM CDT: Fixes typo

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