Manitoba’s top doctor is mulling further restrictions as a record number of people with COVID-19 fill hospital beds and intensive care units.
Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced 365 new cases and three deaths on Monday. There have been 2,200 cases in the past seven days.
The test positivity rate for Manitoba rose to 9.5 per cent, which is a record; it’s 9.3 per cent in Winnipeg.
About two-thirds of the new cases are in the Winnipeg health region.
Roussin said he met with Premier Brian Pallister to discuss further restrictions.
“We’re at a critical point where we need to change these dynamics,” Roussin said. “We need to make change right now on the demand on our health-care system.”
The update comes after Manitoba breached the grim milestone of 100 COVID-19 deaths over the weekend, with several deaths linked to personal care home outbreaks. The overall death toll is now at 109.
WATCH | Roussin hints at more restrictions:
The death of a Winnipeg man in his 80s is tied to the outbreak at Victoria Hospital, and a man in his 70s and a woman in her 90s from the Southern Health Region have also died.
A record 192 people are in hospital, 28 of them in intensive care, with COVID-19.
Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Manitoba Shared Health, said some intensive care unit capacity remains, but not a lot, in Winnipeg and Brandon. Critical care teams are working on expanding ICU capacity, she said.
No symptoms? Don’t get tested: province
There were 3,143 tests done Sunday, and Roussin announced a change in who will qualify for a test.
People without symptoms will no longer be able to book COVID-19 test appointments, and people who aren’t showing symptoms may be turned away from testing sites, Roussin said at a news conference. That’s to make sure the system can maintain capacity for testing symptomatic people.
Employers are being asked not to send employees for tests unless they have symptoms or have been advised by health officials to get a test.
The province also declared outbreaks at Bethania Mennonite Personal Care Home, Extendicare Tuxedo Villa personal care home and Riverview Health Centre in Winnipeg, as well as at St. Amant Health and Transition Services.
‘One of our own has fallen’
Siragusa said 44 health-care workers tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week: 36 in the Winnipeg health region, five in Southern Health, two in Prairie Mountain and one in the north.
The health-care workers who tested positive included 22 nurses, four doctors or doctors in training and 15 allied health or support staff. Three haven’t yet been identified.
Siragusa confirmed one of the recent deaths was a male health-care worker connected to the Victoria Hospital outbreak.
“One of our own has fallen,” she said. “We want to send our condolences with his family, loved ones and the team.”
WATCH | Siragusa says health-care worker died of COVID-19:
She said 403 health-care workers and first responders have tested positive since the pandemic emerged in Manitoba in March.
Meanwhile, a range of staff across the education, care home and health-care systems are calling for more support from the province.
A group of 500 teachers signed a letter Monday addressed to Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen, which says they are at a breaking point and need more staff.
Goertzen announced Monday that Manitoba will hire 100 teachers and 20 educational assistants as it launches a resource centre to help remote learning.
Care home outbreaks
Dozens of health-care workers at Maples care home and Parkview Place have also tested positive in recent weeks.
The condition of a number of Maples residents who tested positive for the illness declined quickly Friday night and a rapid response team was sent in Saturday; eight residents died in the span of 48 hours, including two on Friday, when multiple ambulances and paramedics were called to the home.
The emergency calls prompted officials from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Revera, the for-profit company that owns the Maples and Parkview Place care homes, to hold a rare weekend news conference. They said the home had a full complement of nurses on staff, along with health-care aides, though the union that represents nurses disputes that.
The health minister called for immediate independent investigations of the Maples care home, where 22 people had died as of the weekend, and Parkview Place, where 23 have died.
Siragusa said she would embrace and implement recommendations stemming from the investigations.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman described what happened at Maples as sickening on Monday morning. The provincial government should have learned from outbreaks in other provinces and needs to be more proactive, he said.
Bowman and Manitoba Opposition Leader Wab Kinew suggested the province consider calling in the military to help care homes in the midst of outbreaks, as has been done in other provinces.
The director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto criticized the province and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority for not learning from the deadly outbreaks in care homes in Ontario and Quebec early on in the pandemic.
The province announced last week that the Red Cross would be sending in help this week.
Monday is also the first day enhanced restrictions in the Southern Health region come into effect, about a week after Winnipeg was placed into the same red, or “critical,” level in the provincial pandemic response system.
Roussin urged Manitobans not to socialize with people outside of their household and to significantly cut their list of close contacts for now.
Province reports 1,707 new COVID cases today – SooToday
Public Health Ontario has confirmed 1,707 new cases of COVID-19 today, which is 39 fewer than yesterday. There were 1,746 cases reported on Monday.
Of today’s new cases, most are confined to the Greater Toronto Area. There are 373 new cases confirmed in Peel Region, 727 cases in Toronto and 168 in York Region; that represents 1,268 — or 74 per cent — of the new lab-confirmed cases reported over the past 24 hours.
The agency also reported seven more deaths related to the coronavirus over the past 24 hours. Yesterday, eight deaths were reported.
More than 1,373 cases have been resolved since yesterday.
Over the past 24 hours, 34,600 tests were completed.
Since the start of the pandemic, public health labs in Ontario have processed more than 6.3 million COVID-19 tests.
Throughout Ontario, there are 645 people currently hospitalized with the coronavirus.
- Algoma Public Health: 60 cases, rate of 52.4 per 100,000 people. There are three known active cases.
- North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit: 79 cases, rate of 54.7 per 100,000 people. There are 10 known active cases.
- Porcupine Health Unit: 106, rate of 127 per 100,000 people. There are no known active cases.
- Public Health Sudbury and Districts: 230 cases, rate of 113.1 per 100,000 people. There are eight known active cases.
- Timiskaming Health Unit: 18 cases, rate of 55.1 per 100,000 people. There is one known active case.
- Northwestern Health Unit: 121 cases, rate of 123.2 per 100,000 people. The health unit has also reported two probable cases that are under investigation. There are 17 known active cases.
- Thunder Bay District Health Unit: 308 cases, rate of 168 per 100,000 people.There are 93 known active cases.
Some Ottawa Public Health programs slowly returning – CBC.ca
Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has begun ramping up some community programs that were suspended at the start of the pandemic, but the city’s medical officer of health said not all will return to their pre-COVID-19 selves.
The pandemic didn’t just throw OPH’s budget into disarray but also how it offered many of its services, including chronic disease prevention work.
“These kinds of teams are completely redeployed to the COVID-19 response,” said Dr. Vera Etches, the city’s medical officer of health, on Monday.
OPH also had to shutter its four dental clinics across the city that offered services to people who had difficulties paying for care elsewhere.
The St. Laurent Boulevard clinic reopened for emergency services last week, while the Wabano Centre clinic should reopen part time on Thursday, Etches said.
Those clinics together saw 140 clients a day before the pandemic hit, said OPH’s director of health promotion and chief nursing officer Esther Moghadam, and the hope is to get the other two open so vulnerable populations have easier access to one nearby.
While the clinics were closed, Moghadam said dentists across the community stepped up to help and will likely have to continue to do so until the clinics are at full capacity.
“It’s still very early … There is going to be a need that we won’t be able to address fully,” she said.
Another program that fell by the wayside was the Healthy Growth and Development Program, which Etches said is currently running at 50 per cent capacity.
Its breastfeeding support work is moving online or having mothers come to OPH or other community partners instead of nurses visiting them in their homes.
Not all programs are set to return to the way they once were.
“We’re looking to learn from the new tools we have, the innovative approaches that can be built upon and the partnerships that we have grown to extend some of this work into the future,” said Etches.
That future shift includes those services tailored at chronic diseases, which she said will change because private companies have been stepping up to help protect and promote employee health.
COVID-19 in 2021
Ottawa’s Board of Health unanimously passed its largest budget ever at its meeting Monday night, with $24 million of its $98.1 million budget for 2021 expected to cover a number of one-time COVID-19 expenses.
Even with positive vaccine updates, Etches said next year’s budget forecasts a similar amount of COVID-19 cases, outbreaks, follow-up and communication work in 2021 as exists now.
It is also expecting to help provide that COVID-19 vaccine to Ottawa residents “which we are hopeful, initially, will protect against hospitalizations and deaths in the people most at risk,” she said.
“That would be excellent.”
The budget will go to city council for final approval on Dec. 9.
Parents welcome asymptomatic COVID-19 tests in schools, even if the news isn't always good – CBC.ca
It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster weekend for Toronto father Yaser Nadaf, after Ontario’s new asymptomatic testing for schools in COVID-19 hot spots turned up 19 new positive cases at his children’s school.
While his daughter and her Grade 3 class were cleared to return to school on Monday, his son’s Grade 2 class must self-isolate for 14 days, even though the youngster himself was among those who tested negative.
The weekend’s testing blitz at Thorncliffe Park Public School — the first Toronto District School Board (TDSB) location selected for the voluntary testing pilot announced last week — saw 14 classes affected and sent home for two weeks. However, the rest of the school will remain open, according to direction from Toronto Public Health.
Nadaf is rolling with it, saying he believes teachers and staff have been trying their best to maintain health and safety precautions and protocols.
“What can we do? This is going on everywhere in the world,” he said. “They try their best, but at the same time they cannot prevent it completely.”
Testing asymptomatic students and staff is currently being offered at designated schools in Toronto, Peel and York regions and Ottawa — four Ontario regions with a high number of active COVID-19 cases.
The goal is to improve tracking of the coronavirus and prevent transmission within schools, as well as to inform future public health decisions. While parents and health experts seem to be applauding the pilot, some are also highlighting shortcomings in how it’s being rolled out.
Over the weekend, testing also began in Ottawa at Manordale Public School, part of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Amber Mammoletti, an occasional teacher working at two schools this fall, dropped by on Sunday to be tested with her son, Flynn.
“I think there’s people walking around not realizing they have it — no symptoms — so it’s just better to keep everyone safe: Get tested if you can and see what happens,” she said.
WATCH | How testing helped Cornell University become a model of COVID-19 prevention:
School boards are working with local public health authorities to determine which schools to target over the next four weeks, but the expectation is that new positives will undoubtedly emerge, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said.
“The 19 cases we’ve learned about over the weekend [at Thorncliffe Park PS] as a result of the testing is a concern, but it’s not unexpected,” he said Monday.
“While this information is concerning, it really is the information that our public health officials need to know, because it gives them a better snapshot of how many of those asymptomatic people are positive cases of COVID.”
Despite the batch of positive cases arising from this first weekend, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce reiterated his assertion that “99.9 per cent of Ontario students are COVID-free” during a press briefing on Monday afternoon.
Acknowledging that “we still have work to do” in tracking COVID-19 cases in communities, he characterized the new testing initiative as an extension of the existing safety measures his ministry had announced.
“The fact that hundreds of children, students and staff have gotten tested [at Thorncliffe Park PS] in conjunction with the local public health unit I think underscores that the plan in place is … working hard to mitigate any further spread: identifying COVID cases, isolating them or moving them from the school, so we don’t have spreaders within the school.”
‘Canaries in the coal mine’
A targeted campaign of testing in schools — which in most neighbourhoods are considered trusted, known places — is a welcome tool that adds to the barometer of what’s happening in the communities they’re located in, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.
“Parents who may not be encouraged to go get tested in their local communities will readily take their kids to the school, which is a place they know,” he said.
“Things like this are going to be canaries in the coal mine. You kind of get a better sense of what’s happening in the community by doing these local testing strategies.”
He added the caveat, however, that the type of test being used will likely cause more chaos for families and schools.
For the pilot, Ontario is using PCR testing, which detects the genetic material of a virus. Although considered the gold standard, it’s also so sensitive it would “pick up kids who are infectious, as well as kids who were infectious two, four, six weeks ago,” Chagla said.
He suggested that they could have chosen rapid antigen tests, which flag active infections by identifying proteins on the surface of infectious virus particles.
The rapid antigen tests may offer a more precise picture “of who is really a threat to the community versus who had COVID six weeks ago, where they’re not really a threat,” Chagla said.
WATCH | Nova Scotia offers rapid COVID-19 tests in Halifax for asymptomatic cases:
Though Toronto parent Jessica Lyons welcomes the introduction of asymptomatic testing, she said it comes months late and should be offered more widely.
“This is desperately needed,” said the mother of two school-aged children and an organizer with the Ontario Parent Action Network.
“Much more testing in schools — to make it accessible, to make it easy for parents and families and students to do — is really essential. So we support this pilot, obviously, but we think that it should have come … weeks and weeks ago, and it needs to be expanded.”
Back in Thorncliffe Park, among the Toronto communities hardest hit by COVID-19 this year, parents in the neighbourhood expressed concern about the new positive cases found through the testing initiative. But they’re also adamant about one thing: their schools staying open.
Remote learning last spring was “really hard for kids. We’ve seen the mental stress on our child and other kids,” said Osamah Aldhad, father of a second grader who he said really missed being at school.
“When we were kids, you know, we used to run away from school,” Aldhad noted.
“Now they’re actually really wanting to go to school, which is really important for them.”
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