The list of Manitobans who have died of COVID-19 grew by a record 16 fatalities on Tuesday as the unrelenting spread of the virus sparked new outbreaks at three Winnipeg hospitals.
"It’s a difficult list to read out and this is a tragedy for all Manitobans," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said after announcing the deaths.
Half of the deaths were linked to care homes.
"We know that these are much more than numbers. These are people who are missed right now," Roussin said.
After a deadly November, in which the province recorded three-quarters of its 328 pandemic deaths, Roussin set the tone for the final month of the year as he announced 283 new cases of COVID-19 and a five-day test positivity rate of 13.1 per cent provincewide, and 13.8 per cent in Winnipeg.
• A man in his 70s
• Two women in their 70s
• Two women in their 80s
• A woman in her 80s, linked to the outbreak at Fred Douglas Lodge
• A man in his 80s, linked to the outbreak at Holy Family home
• A man in his 90s, linked to the outbreak at Holy Family home
• A woman in her 100s, linked to the outbreak at Holy Family home
• A man in his 90s, linked to the outbreak at Golden Links Lodge
• Two men in their 70s
• A man in his 80s
• A woman in her 90s, linked to the outbreak at Buhler Active Living Centre in Winkler
• A man in his 80s, linked to the outbreak at Fairview Home
• A woman in her 100s, linked to the outbreak at Gilbert Plains home
"We see our numbers, while not climbing rapidly, are still not where we need them to be. These numbers are still too high for us to sustain," Roussin said.
"These restrictions are tough. Pandemics are tough. And we’re asking a lot of people to avoid things that they feel are very important to them, things that are very difficult to give up even in the short term," Roussin said.
"We know that’s very difficult for everyone but the situation we’re in is critical."
New cases were reported in all health regions, including 17 in Interlake–Eastern; 22 in the Northern health region; 12 in Prairie Mountain Health; 54 in Southern Health; and 178 in Winnipeg. The province said 2,253 tests were completed on Monday.
Roussin did offer a bit of good news, saying case numbers have not been escalating, and he hopes a trend downward is beginning to materialize.
However, hospital admissions due to COVID-19 will continue to creep upward.
As of Tuesday morning, 338 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, the second-highest record, including 48 patients in intensive care.
Outbreaks were declared on three new units at Winnipeg hospitals on Tuesday: Grace Hospital 2 South, Seven Oaks General Hospital Family Medical unit 5U4-7 and Concordia Hospital N2 East.
With the addition of Seven Oaks hospital — which is reporting three cases in patients, one of whom had no symptoms — to the provincial pandemic response system, all Winnipeg hospitals have declared an outbreak of COVID-19 in the second wave of the pandemic.
The outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital, which topped out at 49 cases (29 patients and 20 staff) and 13 deaths, was declared over on Nov. 24.
Health Sciences Centre had 89 cases in four units, including 52 patients, on Tuesday. Five people connected to these outbreaks have died, Shared Health said.
Concordia Hospital had 15 cases in two units while Victoria General Hospital had 93 cases in three units and 15 deaths connected to the outbreaks. Grace Hospital had three units in outbreak and reported 19 cases and five deaths.
Roussin said public health investigates how the virus was introduced to a hospital to prevent it from happening again.
"We have seen things like breaches in (personal protective equipment) which are very easy. It’s very difficult to maintain perfect PPE use for an entire shift, and constantly, so we have seen some minor PPE breaches that have led to outbreaks," Roussin said. "We’ve seen examples of patients that were not identified to be at risk for COVID for various reasons that later led to exposure."
Since the pandemic began, 1,092 people with COVID-19 have been admitted to hospital. Roussin said hospitals have had success in limiting the spread of the virus within facilities.
"For the most part, there is a lot of great work being done to prevent the transmission within these facilities, but at times we’ll see some transmission and we just want to continue to learn from it each time," Roussin said.
However, Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Bob Moroz said Shared Health hasn’t gone far enough to protect hospital staff and patients.
"We’ve been imploring the employer for months now to review their protocols and what appropriate PPE is," Moroz said. "We’ve been pushing and pushing, publicly and behind closed doors, that we need to up the PPE game in this province in a significant way."
With community transmission of COVID-19 out of control, Moroz said the province should provide enhanced personal protective equipment to all hospital staff and do away with "green zones," which assume a low risk for COVID-19 spread.
He questioned why the Precision ADM reusable silicone N95 respirator commissioned by the government is not yet widely in use.
"Every single interaction has to be treated in such a way that there’s a risk of transmission," Moroz said. "Protect everybody to the highest possible level in the absence of knowing for sure whether that individual is COVID-positive or not.
"It’s putting our members at risk and it’s also putting the system at risk," Moroz said. "If we continue to lose people to these self-isolation orders, it’s devastating our system and people can’t keep up."
On Tuesday, health officials said lockdowns at Cross Lake and Peguis First Nations were effective and had been lifted because the risk of COVID-19 transmission had stabilized. Other health orders remained in effect.
— with files from Kevin Rollason
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.