It’s been a grim start to 2022, as January marks the third deadliest month for COVID-19 in Manitoba since the start of the pandemic, according to numbers from the province.
During the month of January, 170 Manitobans lost their lives due to the virus. Only November and December 2020, during the province’s second wave, had more deaths related to COVID-19.
Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, says this shows just how far-reaching the Omicron variant is.
“What it says is that the Omicron variant, while mild for many, is still really dreadful for some,” Furness told Global News.
“Overall, across the population there’s less hospitalizations, there’s less severe outcomes. But the fact of the matter is that far more people are becoming infected. So people who were vulnerable, who were able to stay safe (and) ward it off in the first few waves, are not now able to do so, precisely because it is so very contagious. So if you are high risk, you need to be really worried. That’s what those numbers say.”
The majority of deaths this month were in the Winnipeg Health Region, and occurred mostly in those over the age of 60.
According to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, since mid-December, there have been 34 COVID-19-related deaths connected to 33 current outbreaks in Winnipeg long-term care homes.
“We need to all be aware we could be carriers and some of us are directing (it) to those in a personal care homes,” Manitoba Association of Senior Centres Executive Director Connie Newman said.
“In my case, I have three loved ones in personal care homes, and I worry about those I connect to outside of a personal care home and (if) are they carriers.”
Furness says the public needs to stay vigilant for those at an elevated level of risk.
“This isn’t over for vulnerable people,” Furness said. “Look around you. Look and see who you care about and ask yourself if that trip to the bar is worth it or not.”
He also says we need to pay attention to severe outcomes other than death, including long-term effects of the Omicron variant, even in mild cases.
“Death is the worst possible outcome, but it’s not the only bad outcome,” he said. “COVID is a brain-wasting disease. It results in loss of brain tissue. We don’t know to what extent that happens with Omicron. So the fact it only feels like sniffles and your lungs are not being horribly attacked, does not mean that it’s fully mild. Brain damage, loss of brain tissue can manifest in very subtle ways and the long-term effects could be really quite dreadful.”
“So everybody is better off not getting COVID, it makes sense to not get COVID. And while you’re at it, not getting COVID also protects vulnerable people around you.”