St. Boniface Hospital reached critical care capacity, as the province hit a new high in COVID-19 cases Thursday.

Manitoba set more pandemic records, with 193 new COVID-19 infections and 97 people in hospital fighting the disease (17 in intensive care).

The province announced another death: a man in his 80s from the Southern Health region. He is the 62nd Manitoban to have died from COVID-19.

St Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg issued a statement Thursday evening stating that it's ICU had reached capacity.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

St Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg issued a statement Thursday evening stating that it's ICU had reached capacity.

Hours later, St. Boniface Hospital issued a news release, stating its intensive care wards were unable to take on more patients.

"Our intensive care medicine surgery unit — where we care for our most critical patients — is now over capacity, with all 14 beds occupied. As this unit is full, we have had to admit a patient to the intensive care cardiac surgery unit," the release says.

"ICCS is unable to take any further patients, as staff have been furloughed (told to take a leave of absence) due to exposure from a patient.

"At this point in time, more than half of the patients needing critical care are COVID-positive." St. B said it cannot expand capacity without cancelling more surgeries.

"While this matter is under consideration, we are mindful of the potential impacts on surgical patients most in need," the statement says. "Our regional partners, Health Sciences Centre... and Grace Hospital... are working with us to create capacity to meet the surge in patients that will need critical care."

The late news came as the city was coming to grips with its first COVID-19 shutdown of a school since the new semester began.

Collège Louis-Riel, a French-language school in St. Boniface, has declared an outbreak and moved its 500 students to remote learning. Half of the school’s cohorts had confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Collège Louis-Riel has been moved to remote learning. The province said there are currently seven cases linked to the school. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Collège Louis-Riel has been moved to remote learning. The province said there are currently seven cases linked to the school. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Alain Laberge, superintendent of Division scolaire franco-manitobaine, said Thursday eight people have tested positive.

The school serves grades 7 through 12, and Laberge said most have at least one confirmed case. The school is pivoting to remote learning starting Monday, and is equipping students with computers and other technology, if needed.

Classes were paused for the remainder of this week.

"I thank the parents for being such help, working with us and understanding we're all going through something really hard, knowing that they are very anxious and their kids are going through a lot of anxiety," Laberge said.

All Winnipeg-area schools have been under "code orange" restrictions on the Manitoba pandemic response system since Oct. 26.

“I thank the parents for being such help, working with us and understanding we're all going through something really hard, knowing that they are very anxious and their kids are going through a lot of anxiety." — Alain Laberge, superintendent of Division scolaire franco-manitobaine

The heightened risk level requires facilities to provide two metres of distance between students in kindergarten through Grade 8 (previously one metre was the standard) and cancelled extracurricular activities to accommodate.

At Collège Louis-Riel, Laberge said students had been separated into classroom cohorts of about 25 who remained in the same room throughout the day, with teachers moving across cohorts.

Laberge said it’s believed the cases picked up the virus outside of the school, and investigations into possible in-school transmission are continuing. He couldn’t say Thursday how many students and staff are considered close contacts.

"We want to avoid stigmatization, especially in the French community," Laberge said. "We sent out a letter to our staff (Wednesday) letting them know that you should not point fingers or find out whose fault it is, but just try to all work together to get out of this… It can happen to any of us."

Test site expansion

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A new drive-thru COVID-19 test location will open Oct. 31 in Winnipeg.

The facility will be located at 125 King Edward St., in a converted MPI service centre, and will accept clients between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Once fully established, the centre can collect up to 400 tests a day, the province said.

It is the third drive-thru test site for the capital city. The other locations are 1066 Nairn Ave. and 1284 Main St.

While outbreaks have been declared at two other schools in the Winnipeg area — one recording more than two dozen cases — neither moved its entire population to remote learning.

Laberge said in a community as tight-knit as Collège Louis-Riel, where there are siblings, family and friends across grades and classrooms, sending everyone home for two weeks was a proactive approach to contain any potential spread.

"Half of our students are either affected by the transmission or should be in remote learning just to make sure that they don’t have it," Laberge said. "For us, the best thing was let’s all go home for 10 days, let’s clean the school, and we’ll all come back and everything should be fine."

Remote learning is expected to last until Nov. 9, at which time the school and public health will determine if some or all of the cohorts can return, he said.

On Thursday, Manitoba also declared outbreaks at the medicine unit of Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach, and KeKiNan Centre Inc. in Winnipeg, an assisted-living facility for Indigenous seniors. Both have been elevated to red/critical on the pandemic response system.

The Winnipeg region led the way with 139 new cases, while Interlake-Eastern had 21, Northern had 10, Prairie Mountain had four, and Southern Health had 19.

“We want to avoid stigmatization, especially in the French community. We sent out a letter to our staff (Wednesday) letting them know that you should not point fingers or find out whose fault it is, but just try to all work together to get out of this… It can happen to any of us.” — Alain Laberge

Provincewide, the five-day test positivity rate was 7.8 per cent — a new high. On Wednesday, 3,375 tests were run at the lab, bringing the total number completed since early February to 251,461.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba was 4,894, with 2,423 considered recovered.

On Thursday, Victoria General Hospital said an outbreak in two of its family medicine units now includes 28 patients and 21 staff. One person has died.

At St. Boniface Hospital, which has declared outbreaks on three units, targeted testing of patients and staff has uncovered three new cases, officials said. A total of 25 patients and 11 staff have tested positive; three patients have died.

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the government is analyzing what further measures or restrictions might be taken to flatten the pandemic curve and stave off the virus from overwhelming the health system.

"As we see more people coming into hospital, that is cause for concern and that is why we then move to put into effect changes," he said, adding chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin would have more to say Friday on whether the province might see new restrictions.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government should act on its plans to "flex" up capacity in the health-care system. "Now is the time to add ICU beds, if you have the capacity to increase the system."

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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