Manitoba has highest prevalence of COVID in Canada: study

The number of COVID-19 infections in Manitoba remains high, with an estimated 10,000 people contracting the novel coronavirus every day amid waning booster immunity, new research suggests.

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The number of COVID-19 infections in Manitoba remains high, with an estimated 10,000 people contracting the novel coronavirus every day amid waning booster immunity, new research suggests.

One in every 22 people, or 4.6 per cent of the population, is believed to be infected — the highest prevalence of Canadian provinces and territories, according to data published Oct. 7 by COVID-19 Resources Canada.

Prof. Tara Moriarty, co-founder of the research group, which is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, said the findings demonstrate why people should get their fourth vaccine dose and continue to take precautions.

COVID-19 Resources Canada

“Manitoba’s infections have been pretty high,” Moriarty said in a phone interview Monday. “We probably have 10 times more infections on a daily basis (in Canada) than we did a year ago.”

The risk of getting infected is very high, and infections usually increase after Thanksgiving as the weather turns cold and people stay indoors, said Moriarty, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Toronto.

Behind Manitoba, the estimated prevalence in P.E.I. is one in every 25 people, and one in every 30 in British Columbia.

At 726.4, Manitoba had the highest rate of estimated total daily infections, including reinfections, per 100,000 residents.

The true scale of infections in Manitoba is unknown. PCR testing is limited, with about 300 samples analyzed by lab staff each day in recent weeks.

There are 26 outbreaks within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s hospitals and personal care homes, as of Oct. 7, according to an online list.

To arrive at its findings, Moriarty’s group uses a complex model which involves “back estimating” the number of infections based on hospitalizations or deaths reported by a province or territory.

If there is a lack of reporting by a government, the formula becomes more complicated. Researchers use more complete data from Quebec to calculate an “under detection level” for a particular province or territory.

Moriarty said the group’s estimates match federal public health data and local wastewater testing data “quite well.”

COVID-19 Resources Canada

Her lab gives each province a COVID-19 hazard index score based on three equally weighted categories: current infections and spread, the impact on the health-care system, and mortality.

With a score of seven out of 13, Manitoba is in a tie for second-highest in Canada with Alberta, Saskatchewan and the North.

B.C.’s score of eight is the highest. The national average is six.

Manitoba’s index was nine on Sept. 16.

The estimate of 10,000 infections per day in Manitoba is likely about 1,000 less than the daily total in January, said Moriarty.

Manitoba’s first Omicron wave peaked that month.

There are fewer deaths this time, said Moriarty, because a lot of the most at-risk Manitobans have since had a booster dose or have died.

The recent surge in infections in Canada is being driven by the Omicron BA.5 subvariant, which has become dominant. It causes mild to moderate infections in most people.

COVID-19 Resources Canada

The variant is adept at causing reinfection, said Moriarty, noting many Canadians have waning vaccine protection due to the time that has elapsed since their last shot.

According to government data, 78 per cent of eligible Manitoba residents (aged six months and older) have had at least two doses of a vaccine, as of Oct. 1.

In the last six months, 16.3 per cent have had at least one dose.

Manitoba expanded eligibility for the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, which targets the Omicron variant, to include anyone over 18 on Sept. 22.

As of Oct. 1, 2.1 per cent of those eligible have received a bivalent dose.

Moriarty predicted Canada may not see a noticeable surge from Thanksgiving gatherings, because people were already mixing more following the end of public health orders earlier this year.

Moriarty is encouraging people to get their COVID-19 and influenza shots, and wear a mask in indoor public spaces to curb the spread of the virus and ease the burden on hospitals.

“We already have a health-care system that is struggling in almost every province,” she said.

A Manitoba government spokesman said the province is focused on monitoring hospital capacity and capabilities, promoting booster vaccination and preventing respiratory disease. Those efforts include ad campaigns for the bivalent and flu vaccines.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont claims the data and care home outbreaks show COVID-19 is “running unchecked” in Manitoba.

“The premier and public health need to explain to Manitobans whether the strategy is just to let COVID rip through the population,” he said in a statement. “It’s not responsible, and you wouldn’t do that with polio or Ebola, but it looks to us like that is the choice the PCs are making.”

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Canadian COVID-19 Hazard Index

Chris Kitching
Reporter

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

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