Manitoba's public health restrictions won't be loosened as long as intensive-care patients are being transferred out of the province.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

Manitoba's public health restrictions won't be loosened as long as intensive-care patients are being transferred out of the province.

COVID-19 case counts in Manitoba are slowly declining — averaging roughly 300 daily cases over seven days — but they need to drop further, along with test positivity rates, before the province will significantly relax public-health orders, Dr. Jazz Atwal said Friday.

"I think we're in a tough spot here still," said Dr. Jazz Atwal, the province's deputy chief public health officer.

"If we do loosen something, I don't expect it would be major changes to the (health) orders, to be quite frank. It'll be subtle changes."

Manitoba's public health restrictions won't be loosened as long as intensive-care patients are being transferred out of the province, Dr. Jazz Atwal said Friday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Manitoba's public health restrictions won't be loosened as long as intensive-care patients are being transferred out of the province, Dr. Jazz Atwal said Friday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Age-group specific vaccination rates, and plans to expand Manitoba's ICU capacity, will play a part in deciding on new rules, he said.

Test positivity rates were 11.4 per cent provincewide and 13 per cent in Winnipeg on Friday.

"Test positivity needs to come down, and we can’t be in a position where we’re still moving people out of province from an ICU perspective. So there’s still some variables there that we have to look at," Atwal said.

As of Friday, nearly 40 per cent of Manitoba's COVID-19 patients in intensive care were being treated out of province. There were 41 patients in hospitals in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, in addition to 65 COVID ICU patients in Manitoba.

A total of 125 ICU beds, for COVID and non-COVID patients, are occupied in Manitoba. A plan to increase local ICU capacity, and not having to take away hospital staff from one unit to properly staff another unit, is expected to be announced next week, Atwal said.

A total of 125 ICU beds, for COVID and non-COVID patients, are occupied in Manitoba. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

A total of 125 ICU beds, for COVID and non-COVID patients, are occupied in Manitoba. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"Right now, there is a lot of work being done to increase our net-new beds in ICU. I think there will be some further information available next week on that, but it is challenging. You know, we have an acute-care system... that’s always run lean. I’ve been in medicine for close to 20 years and it was lean 20 years ago," he said.

"It’s not just unique to Manitoba, I think a lot of jurisdictions have the same issue as well."

Despite Atwal's comments, the provincial government on Friday asked for public feedback on what the reopening plan should look like. A new Engage MB online survey was launched, asking what freedoms would improve Manitobans' quality of life. Some of the questions focused on easing restrictions only for Manitobans who are fully vaccinated.

Only "subtle" changes are expected to be made to the next batch of public-health orders after the existing rules expire June 12, Atwal said.

Health officials have said field hospitals were under consideration, but with case counts slowly declining, Atwal said Friday he doesn't think one will be necessary.

"I don’t feel we’re going to require a field hospital, to be quite frank."

A fourth wave is possible in Manitoba, and officials are worried about building enough immunity to stay ahead of new highly contagious variants of the virus.

"The more Manitobans who get vaccinated, the less chance there is of a fourth wave," Atwal said.

A fourth wave is possible in Manitoba, and officials are worried about building enough immunity to stay ahead of new highly contagious variants of the virus. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

A fourth wave is possible in Manitoba, and officials are worried about building enough immunity to stay ahead of new highly contagious variants of the virus. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

He said it's too soon to tell how effective existing vaccines are against variants of concern such as the Delta (B.1617) and Gamma (P.1) variants, although early studies suggest two doses are better than one. Screening tests for the Delta variant are being developed in Manitoba and at a national level.

"It’s really hard to predict the future. I think at the present time we need to focus on where we’re at right now, we need to get our numbers down; we need to manage the third wave and get as many people vaccinated, because even with many, many people vaccinated, we know some won’t develop immunity," Atwal said.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

   Read full biography