It was a question of fundamentals.
That was the message Premier Brian Pallister delivered to Manitobans as the calendar flipped to November and the provincial government found itself battling spiking cases of COVID-19 in the Winnipeg health region.
"When we were abiding by the fundamentals, we were beating COVID, then some of us lost our way, and now COVID is beating us," Pallister said on Nov. 2, when he publicly mulled a potential curfew and asked Manitobans to cut down their contacts by 75 per cent.
"We need to get back to the fundamentals to flatten the COVID curve and we need to do that now."
At the start of November, Manitoba had reported 6,034 cases of the virus and 75 deaths. The provincewide test-positivity rate sat at 8.8 per cent, and the Winnipeg health region was settling into new critical red restrictions on the pandemic response system.
Twenty-eight days later, and the situation has gone from bad to worse.
The entire province has been downgraded to critical red, with tighter restrictions and tougher enforcement of public health orders, and citizens are preparing for a fast-approaching holiday season during which celebrations will be anything but traditional.
Manitoba has now reported 16,825 cases of COVID-19 — with an active case count steadily inching towards 10,000 — and 312 deaths. On 12 different days in November, the number of deaths announced by public health officials was in the double digits.
November was, far and away, the deadliest month Manitoba has seen since the start of the pandemic, with the province surpassing grim milestone after grim milestone during the past four weeks.
In total, 10,822 new cases of the virus — or 64 per cent of all cases so far — were reported this past month, including four of the top-five highest daily case totals.
Worst of all were the lives lost — 237 deaths reported in one month alone, which accounts for 76 per cent of all deaths in Manitoba so far. Last week, the province announced the death of a boy under the age of 10 — the youngest person yet to die in Manitoba.
"These people are more than statistics. They are parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and now a child," Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, said Monday.
"It’s a heartbreaking loss for people, for their families and friends to endure, and it’s made harder by the inability to gather together and comfort each other and grieve."
In late October and early November, there appeared to be a virtual mutiny in the health-care system, with increasing numbers of Manitoba doctors and nurses — more than 1,000 — stepping forward to publicly call on the provincial government to do more to halt the virus’s spread.
While the province has tightened restrictions and officials point to decreasing numbers of close contacts among new positive cases, the situation in the health-care system remains acute.
Critical care capacity in Manitoba hospitals continues to be pushed to the brink, and the provincewide test-positivity rate sits at 13.4 per cent.
"We had 341 people in hospital this morning throughout the province due to COVID. For perspective, that is more than triple our number of hospitalizations from only a month ago. Our ICUs have also seen substantial increase in activity," Siragusa said.
"As of midnight, our critical care program was 145 per cent above our normal baseline pre-COVID... Again, to provide perspective, the number of COVID patients in our ICU has increased nearly two-and-a-half times this past month."
At the same time as Manitoba was floundering in its fight to flatten the curve, there were repeated instances of open defiance of public health orders. On Nov. 12, an anti-mask, anti-lockdown rally was held in Steinbach, with hundreds of people in attendance.
One week later, the 10-day test-positivity rate in Steinbach had skyrocketed to 40 per cent. The Church of God Restoration, a religious organization just outside the community, has continued to hold drive-in services against public health orders.
Meanwhile, the situation in personal care homes has gone from dire to deadly. At the start of the month, outbreaks had been declared in 19 personal care homes in Manitoba, with 355 reported cases and 37 deaths.
By Nov. 30, 67 personal care homes in the province were battling outbreaks of the coronavirus, with 1,104 cases and 153 deaths — marking a 210 per cent increase in cases and a 313 per cent increase in deaths.
Those figures include the rash of deaths at Maples Long Term Care Home in Winnipeg, where eight people died in a 48-hour window in early November, which resulted in the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service being dispatched to provide assistance at the scene.
The public became aware of the situation at Maples only after an anonymous whistleblower took to social media to report details about the rash of deaths at the facility.
In response, the province hastily organized a weekend press conference, where a spokesman for Revera, the for-profit company that runs Maples, provided false information about staffing levels during the deadly 48-hour stretch.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen subsequently announced an external probe into Revera’s administration of two personal care homes in Winnipeg that have seen significant outbreaks of the virus.
The Winnipeg Police Service also confirmed it had launched a preliminary probe into the situation at Maples.
On Monday — which saw 11 more deaths and 343 new cases — Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, reflected upon the day, more than eight months ago, when he announced the pandemic had claimed its first victim in the province.
"I can still recall advising Manitobans of our first death related to COVID-19 back in March and I remember that being a very somber day in Manitoba. And now we continue to announce many deaths every day. Today, again, in the double digits," Roussin said.
"I think we all know we cannot continue along these lines."
Michael Pereira is a data journalist and developer who spends his days pulling data from (sometimes unwilling) sources, extracting meaning for readers and producing graphics that tell a story.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.