Manitoba reported a marked drop in daily COVID-19 cases Monday, as health officials said another four Manitobans with the virus have died.
The 167 new cases identified Monday marks the first time Manitoba has seen a daily case count below 200 since Nov. 3, when 103 cases were reported.
Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen joined health officials for a COVID-19 update for the first time in weeks Monday, opening the briefing by telling Manitobans the province has hit “a turning point” in the battle against the virus.
“We have seen, in the last few weeks, a turning, both in Manitoba’s numbers and in the promise and arrival of vaccine and in other ways too,” he said, pointing to increased COVID-19 testing sites, an online test appointment booking system, and improvements in test result turnaround times.
Manitoba received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccine last week and some 900 health-care workers in critical care units have begun to receive their shots.
“There’s a sense of hope and optimism in the province as we move into 2021,” Friesen said.
Friesen has been absent from press conferences since coming under heavy criticism during the pandemic’s second wave that started in late summer.
In November, while Manitoba led all other provinces in new infections per capita, Friesen accused doctors of causing chaos after 200 physicians and other scientists wrote a letter to the premier that said the health-care system was being overwhelmed.
Since Friesen’s last appearance at a press conference Nov. 13 Manitoba’s death toll from COVID-19 has risen from 137 to 572 and the province’s total case count has more than doubled.
Monday’s latest deaths include a woman in her 60s from the Southern Health region, and three women in their 90s from Winnipeg, one connected to an outbreak at the Charleswood Care Centre and another linked to an outbreak at Park Manor Care.
The new cases include 83 cases in the Winnipeg Health region, 43 cases in the Southern Health region, seven cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region, 25 cases in the Northern Health region, and nine cases in the Interlake-Eastern Health region.
Since March Manitoba has reported 23,025 cases of the virus.
In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press published last week, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said he is thinking about appointing a second health minister to help the province fight its high COVID-19 case numbers.
Pallister said the move would not be a criticism of Friesen, but would help ease workload in the health department that. The premier hinted the move might be temporary until the pandemic is over.
At the time Friesen welcomed the idea and said it came from him.
But when asked about the move Monday he would not comment on how his duties might change or when the shuffle might occur.
“That decision is not up to me and so it’s status quo until we hear otherwise,” Friesen said.
“Some provinces in Canada have two health ministers. Some have one. Certainly there is enough work to go around. But the key is teams. And we have some great teams in Manitoba that are supporting the work in health.”
‘We must remain vigilant’
Manitoba’s daily number of new COVID-19 cases have been trending downward, slowly, in recent weeks.
Monday’s case count is the lowest seen since government imposed a provincewide Code Red on Nov. 12, which limited public gatherings and required many stores to close. The restrictions were further tightened Nov. 20, when a ban on most social visits inside private homes took effect.
“Our case numbers are down today, which is definitely a positive,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, the acting deputy chief provincial public health officer.
“However, we must remain vigilant. We can’t let these lower numbers lull us into a false sense of security.”
Despite the drop in cases, hospitalization rates have been stable and the demand for intensive care beds remains well above normal.
Data showed there are currently 310 in hospital with COVID-19 with 42 in intensive care with the virus Monday. Atwal said there are another 72 patients who have recovered from COVID-19 but remain in hospital, and another seven who’ve recovered but are still in ICU.
Health officials said Manitoba’s ICUs are currently 168 per cent over normal capacity and 39 COVID-19 patients are currently on ventilators.
Meanwhile the province said a new outbreak has been declared at Concordia Place personal care home in Winnipeg. A previously declared outbreak at Swan Valley Health Centre in Swan River has ended, health officials said.
On Sunday health officials announced 13 additional deaths and 229 new cases of the virus.
Provincial data shows 1,949 tests for COVID-19 were completed Sunday, bringing the total number of lab tests completed since early February to 405,724.
As of Monday the five-day test positivity rate is 11.5 per cent provincially and 10.5 per cent in Winnipeg and health officials say there are currently 5,736 active COVID-19 across Manitoba.
–With files from the Canadian PressView link »