The speed with which COVID-19 claimed the life of a second Manitoban starkly reveals the enormous challenge facing front-line health workers as they battle the novel coronavirus.
The 55-year-old Winnipeg man, a custodian at Windsor Park Collegiate, fell ill at work March 18, sources said. On March 23, he was diagnosed with pneumonia; four days later he was in intensive care in hospital.
On Thursday, the father and grandfather, whose name has not been made public, died.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said the man had underlying health conditions.
"These are challenging times for us all," Roussin said Friday. "We're seeing our case numbers continually grow, we're seeing severe outcomes, which is quite distressing to many Manitobans."
Not only did the province record its second coronavirus death, but the numbers of infected persons and very ill patients continued to climb.
Fifteen more Manitobans had tested positive by Friday morning, bringing the total to 182. Nine COVID-19 patients are now in hospital, including six in intensive care.
Roussin urged Manitobans not to be fearful, reminding them they play a pivotal role in "interrupting" the virus.
"(By) staying home and practising social distancing, all Manitobans are doing their part to limit the number of days like today," he said.
With the novel coronavirus curve far from flattened in Manitoba, politicians and health officials faced renewed calls Friday to reveal how bad the situation may get.
Ontario has calculated anywhere from 3,000 to 15,000 could die in that province by the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, its premier, Doug Ford, said Friday.
Premier Brian Pallister continued to express reluctance Friday in releasing any Manitoba projections, but said it was his intention to provide some information next week.
"There's a tremendous desire for people to know the end of this story, right?" he said. "The challenge is: none of us do. And so, making accurate predictions on something that is totally unprecedented is an incredible thing."
Pallister was unconvinced publishing grim projections was a good strategy for obtaining better compliance with provincial social-distancing strategies.
"I'm not interested in trying to scare the hell out of everybody in the province just so that some people start to pay attention," he said.
The Louis Riel School Division would not comment on the employee's death. In a statement, it said it's working closely with the province to ensure the safety of students and employees. Manitoba public schools have been closed indefinitely, starting March 23.
While the local COVID-19 news was generally grim Friday, underscoring the tremendous challenge ahead, there was a positive report.
Fears of an outbreak at a Gimli personal care home were somewhat lessened when seven of the nine residents showing symptoms of respiratory illness earlier in the week were found to have tested negative for the coronavirus. Results for the other two residents are pending.
A health-care worker at the home tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, sparking the scare.
Meanwhile, at their daily news conference Friday, Manitoba health officials could not say how many health workers in the province are currently in self-isolation due to COVID-19.
On Thursday, it was revealed 40 nurses, 30 allied health professionals, 20 support staff, 15 security guards and an untold number of physicians had been sent home to self-isolate for 14 days due to potential contact with the coronavirus at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre.
However, on Friday, the Manitoba Nurses Union was angered to learn some of the HSC nurses considered asymptomatic were being asked to return to work.
"Unfortunately, the employer has decided to continue disregarding basic health and safety precautions," MNU president Darlene Jackson said in a statement.
Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Shared Health, could not immediately confirm the information at the news briefing.
Shared Health later issued a statement saying occupational and environmental safety and health workers were conducting risk assessments on asymptomatic staff who worked in the HSC unit "where a colleague or patient tested positive" for COVID-19.
"A negative test in a person without symptoms is not reliable. They could still be incubating that virus." –Dr. Brent Roussin
"Those who did not have close contact (within six feet of a patient’s head for more than 10 minutes) with the individual who tested positive may be deemed a low risk of infection and asked to return to work," the statement said.
It noted staff who care for patients are now all wearing personal protective equipment. Staff will also be asked to self-monitor for symptoms, the statement added.
Roussin said while health-care workers with symptoms of the coronavirus are a priority group for testing, asymptomatic workers who are self-isolating would not be tested.
"There's no benefit in testing people without symptoms," the chief public health officer said. "A negative test in a person without symptoms is not reliable. They could still be incubating that virus."
— with files from Ben Waldman
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