Manitoba is taking additional steps to protect Manitobans and maintain health services, including non-COVID-19 care, during a fourth wave of the pandemic, Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon and Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, announced today.
“Rising case counts and COVID-19 transmission in the province means we need to introduce new measures now to reduce the impact of a fourth wave of COVID-19 on our hospitals,” said Gordon. “Case counts and hospitalizations are rising everywhere in Canada, and Manitoba is not immune. That is why we must be proactive now.”
The minister noted Manitoba’s progress on vaccination remains one of the best in the country with 80.4 per cent of eligible Manitobans fully vaccinated and 84.9 per cent who have received at least one dose as of Wednesday. But case numbers and hospitalizations are now increasing, noted Gordon, especially among the nearly 400,000 unvaccinated Manitobans, which will place the province’s medical care system at risk if the rise continues unabated. As of Wednesday, people who are not fully vaccinated accounted for 75 per cent of new COVID-19 cases, 79 per cent of those admitted to hospital and 100 per cent of intensive care unit (ICU) admissions.
Data also shows that hospital admissions related to COVID-19 have increased by 26 per cent in the past week with COVID-19 related admissions to ICU increasing by 17 per cent during that same period. Should this continue, Roussin cautioned access to other medical care in hospitals will have to be reduced or halted to ensure sufficient ICU capacity for COVID-19 care is available.
To increase COVID-19 preparedness and address the fourth wave, the province is taking three new steps to help reduce COVID-19 transmission:
· moving to the restricted (orange) level on the Pandemic Response System;
· introducing additional public health orders that expand requirements for proof of immunization and reduce gathering sizes when unvaccinated individuals are present; and
· implementing new patient protocols to ensure additional health system capacity when needed.
The COVID-19 response level on the province’s Pandemic Response System is being raised to restricted (orange) from caution (yellow) to reflect the increased severity of risk. Roussin noted the move to the restricted (orange) level will not affect schools. Schools will remain at the caution (yellow) level at this time to ensure youth can remain in school as much as possible. At this time, public health officials continue to recommend a school-specific approach when risk is identified.
New public health orders will allow fully vaccinated Manitobans to continue to enjoy as much freedom and as few restrictions as possible. Unvaccinated individuals who are eligible to be vaccinated will now be more restricted in their activities. This includes:
· limiting private indoor gatherings for households to guests from one other household when any unvaccinated person who is eligible to be vaccinated is present on the property (even if the unvaccinated person lives at that location);
· limiting private outdoor gatherings for households to 10 guests when any unvaccinated person who is eligible to be vaccinated is present on the property (even if the unvaccinated person lives at that location);
· reducing indoor public gathering group sizes to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is lower, for gatherings that include unvaccinated people who are eligible to be vaccinated, including weddings and funerals; and
· setting indoor group sizes for faith-based gatherings to 25 people or 33 per cent capacity, whichever is greater, for gatherings that include unvaccinated people who are eligible to be vaccinated.
Fully immunized Manitobans and those under 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine may gather without capacity limits in each of these areas. Household gatherings, weddings, funerals and faith-based gatherings can occur for fully vaccinated individuals and those under 12 without any restrictions.
For example, faith-based gatherings may take place with a choice of services at their discretion for fully immunized worshippers (no restrictions) or unvaccinated worshippers (restricted capacity as set out above). In addition, gated or controlled events and gatherings where proof of vaccination is required will continue to be permitted.
The public health orders will also:
· reduce all outdoor public gathering sizes to 50 people; and
· move retail capacity to 50 per cent in the Southern Health-Santé Sud health region to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in this region.
The new orders will come into effect on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 12:01 a.m., with an additional one-week grace period for weddings and funerals already scheduled to minimize disruption.
Roussin noted that fully vaccinated Manitobans and Manitobans who are not eligible for vaccination will be largely unaffected by these new orders.
“Our data shows that vaccination works, as the vast majority of hospitalizations and ICU admissions are in people who are unvaccinated,” said Roussin. “But nearly 400,000 Manitobans are either unable or unwilling to get vaccinated and our health-care system remains at risk from the delta variant of COVID-19 with case numbers and hospitalizations rising. Today’s announcements are the consequences of that reality.”
Future changes may include requiring all those eligible to be vaccinated to provide proof of vaccination to participate in indoor recreational activities and allowing partially vaccinated youth aged 12 to 17 (with one vaccine dose) to participate. Conversations will continue with sports organizations and other stakeholders to seek feedback.
“More than 80 per cent of eligible Manitobans have gotten vaccinated to protect their own health and those around them, and we thank you for that,” said Gordon. “But right now, there are nearly 400,000 people who are not immunized in Manitoba and they are at a high risk of infection. If you want to keep children in schools and ensure medical procedures people need are not postponed, please get vaccinated now.”
Gordon noted the province’s critical care capacity must remain protected for patients. New protocols will be put in place to protect capacity at sites that support patients in intensive care units, as well as those in need of surgery. Patients admitted to a hospital or health-care facility for care will be assessed for their individual care requirements and may be transferred to the most appropriate facility in Manitoba with the capacity to meet their needs in order to maintain vital ICU capacity. This may mean patients are medically transferred at no cost to another Manitoba facility located outside their home community. This includes patients who live in Winnipeg.
Staffing complements for ICUs have been intensified. The minister noted additional nurses trained to support patients in need of critical care have been made ready in recent months. This includes more than 137 nurses who completed a two-week general ICU orientation course offered between April and July 2021, as well as 67 nurses who have completed or are currently enrolled in a 12-week critical care orientation program. Further opportunities for nurses to complete this specialized training will be rolled out.
“Vaccines have been shown to reduce the serious effects of COVID-19 and lessen the need for hospital care. With unvaccinated people requiring care in our hospitals and ICUs, these steps are necessary to maintain critical care capacity for all other patients in our hospitals,” said Gordon. “COVID-19 has created a heartbreaking backlog of surgeries and other medical procedures right across the country. Every new COVID-19 patient that requires hospital or ICU care can delay needed care for someone else.”