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With four new deaths, record hospitalizations, a positivity rate of nearly seven per cent and the third-highest number of new cases announced Sunday, Manitoba’s health care system is being stretched thin amid a COVID-19 spike. Health care professionals and experts warn that increased hospitalizations will result in maxed-out capacities at hospitals and increased caseloads for physicians and nurses.

Manitoba recorded 161 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the province to 4,249 lab-confirmed positive cases. It was the second day in a row with the third-highest number of new cases. There are 2,053 active cases and 2,142 individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.

The five-day test positivity rate is 6.9 per cent. With the four deaths announced Sunday, all in the Winnipeg health region, 54 Manitobans have died due to COVID-19.

The province set new records Sunday for hospitalization rates and ICU rates — there are 77 people in hospital and 15 in intensive care.

Record high hospitalizations are ringing alarm bells for health care professionals. With outbreaks in three units at St. Boniface Hospital and two units at Victoria General Hospital, physicians and nurses are worried about the rising strain on the health care system.

In a Facebook post Saturday, a medical microbiologist at St. Boniface Hospital wrote that, "Without a turnaround, we are within days of being at the limit of ICU capacity."

"Resources are getting strained. ICUs are full. We are on the brink. This is what happens when we let our guard down, have too many contacts, relax and go out with too many people," Dr. Phillipe Lagacé-Wiens wrote.

Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba, noted health care professionals have been warning of a rapidly approaching crisis point for a while.

"Not only are we seeing increases in case numbers, we’re seeing increases in hospitalizations, we’re seeing increases in people being admitted to intensive care units, we’re seeing increased fatalities," he said Sunday.

"If we weren’t seriously concerned a couple weeks ago, there’s an issue… Everything is trending in the absolute wrong direction of where it needs to be. That trend is not suddenly today or tomorrow going to change."

Increased hospitalization rates have put a strain on both COVID-related ICU resources and hospitals’ ability to navigate regular fall caseloads. Health care workers — and their close contacts — have had to isolate as outbreaks continue, leading to an increase in workload and a shortage of staff to manage the rising tides.

"People that can’t get in for regular care that also ultimately add to the overall mortality and morbidity that we see, because if they’re not able to come in and get the standard of care that they need for non-COVID related treatments, that creates a bigger burden on the health care system," Kindrachuk said.

In Winnipeg, particularly, the virus has been "burning wild," Kindrachuk said, putting a strain on resources.

The vast majority of Sunday’s new cases, 110, are in the Winnipeg health region, with the remaining 51 cases spread across the four other major health regions. Thirty cases were recorded in the Southern health region, 10 in the Interlake-Eastern health region; seven in the Northern health region; and four in the Prairie Mountain region.

Several of those cases have cropped up in personal care homes.

Two of Sunday’s four deaths — a woman in her 90s and another man in his 70s — have been linked to Parkview Place care home, where an outbreak has been ongoing for more than two weeks. The other two deaths, a man in his 50s and woman in her 80s, are not apparently connected to any outbreaks.

Revera, the company that owns the downtown Winnipeg care home, said this weekend more than 200 of the home’s residents have undergone testing through a partnership with Dynacare, the private laboratory that handles some of the province’s COVID-19 testing.

In a statement provided to the Free Press, Revera said the company will begin all-staff surveillance testing of employees at Parkview Place via the public health system this week to help identify asymptomatic carriers. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has provided Parkview Place with an onsite pharmacist, and a nurse practitioner will begin work this coming week, the statement said.

Public Health has declared outbreaks at the Swan Valley Health Centre and Swan Valley Lodge Personal Care Home in Swan River, and both have been designed as critical (red) on the Pandemic Response System.

Holy Family Home, another Winnipeg personal care home, announced three new cases of the virus on its website Saturday, for a total of four active cases at the home.

In a statement Saturday, the Simkin Centre announced one of its residents is among the province’s recent COVID-19 deaths.

Meanwhile, the province has announced possible exposures at seven Winnipeg schools in the past two weeks. New restrictions for schools in Winnipeg and the Northern health region will be handed down today, the province has said.

The province said 2,362 tests were completed Friday and an additional 2,252 were done Saturday, bringing the total number of lab tests completed since early February to 240,639.

Twitter: @jsrutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.

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