Manitoba reports 11 new COVID-19 deaths, all provincial testing sites to close

Manitoba is reporting 11 more deaths linked to COVID-19 and 111 new hospitalizations for the week of March 20-26. On Thursday the province announced it is permanently closing all provincial COVID-19 testing sites as of April 15. (Credit Image: © Xinhua via ZUMA Press)

The Manitoba government says 11 more Manitobans with COVID-19 have died as hospitals admitted 111 new patients with the virus last week.

The latest COVID-19 data comes both from a COVID-19 bulletin emailed to media and a weekly COVID-19 update from the province, posted online Thursday mornings which cover the previous week.

Thursday’s online report includes data from March 20-26.

While the online data shows eight people died during the week covered by the report, the bulletin,  which the province says will be the last scheduled bulletin from health officials, listed three further deaths.

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‘My biggest concern is losing our vigilance’: Manitoba removes COVID-19 numbers from website

The latest victims of the virus include five women and six men aged between 50 and 80 plus.

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Six of the deaths come from the Winnipeg Health region, two were reported in the Prairie Mountain Health region, and one each were reported from the Northern, Southern, and Interlake-Eastern Health regions.

Since March 2020, there have been 1,744 Manitoban deaths linked to the virus, according to the online report.

Manitoba previously posted daily updates on various online dashboards that included information on how many people had tested positive for COVID-19, how many people were in hospital and ICU as a result of the virus, and how many people had died.

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There were also dashboards that gave daily updates on vaccination efforts, outbreaks, and information about cases at schools.

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The province announced plans to scrap that reporting last week. All the daily dashboards have since been taken down. The weekly online epidemiology reports will now be the only way Mantiobans can access COVID-19 data.

The new weekly online reporting system doesn’t include any further information about the latest deaths. Details like ages, genders, and where in the province the latest victims lived is not included.

The weekly updates also no longer include the total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions, instead reporting only how many new admissions occurred during the week.

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According to this week’s online report, 16 of the 111 new hospitalizations linked to the virus were ICU admissions. The report also shows one new outbreak reported at a personal care home, Boyne Lodge in Carman, the week of March 20-26.

The online report shows 982 people tested positive for COVID-19 between March 20-26, with the provincial test positivity rate now sitting at 13.9 per cent, down form 14.5 per cent reported the previous week.

But provincial case counts no longer give an accurate picture of active infection rates because they don’t include positive tests done at home and the government has scaled back provincial testing.

All provincial COVID-19 testing sites to close

On Thursday health officials announced they will be permanently closing all provincial test sites on April 15 after reducing hours at several locations starting Friday.

The province says pre-operative patients will still be able to be tested for COVID-19 and  rapid antigen tests are available at Winnipeg public libraries and several retail locations. A list of locations is available on the province’s website.

The move to shutter testing sites was quickly panned by the Opposition NDP.

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“This is another last minute and haphazard PC decision that cuts health care for high-risk Manitobans and leaves doctors and health care workers scrambling to pick up the pieces,” said the NDP’s critic for health care, Uzoma Asagwara.

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“Cutting back access to testing will make it harder for high-risk Manitobans to access anti-viral treatment — a treatment that we know can save lives.

“As we enter the next stage of the pandemic, we need to provide Manitobans with more access to health care and testing, not less.”

‘We are suggesting in fact that the crisis is over’

Meanwhile, experts have expressed concern about Manitoba’s new COVID-19 reporting methods, which come just over two weeks since the province dropped all of its COVID-19 public health orders including mandates around masking in public and rules to isolate after testing positive for the virus.

Instead, guidance was given for Manitobans to assess the risk of COVID-19 themselves.

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor with the faculty of health science at the University of Ottawa worries that without detailed information, Mantiobans won’t be properly equipped to assess that risk.

“By not sharing information we are suggesting in fact that the crisis is over. It is not over. It’s different,” Deonandan told Global News this week.

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Removal of Manitoba COVID-19 data portal alarms epidemiologist

“We have extreme distrust of authority figures, distrust of the elite, whoever that may be, distrust of scientists, of media, public health….you don’t win back trust by not sharing what information you have.”

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Global News requested an interview with the chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin Wednesday, but the province refused. Instead, they said they’ll hold a public health briefing if the situation changes.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Wednesday the decision to change COVID-19 reporting was made by public health.

“They decide as a public health agency how often they release that information,” she told reporters.

“They’ve now decided it would be weekly because the numbers are trending down, and I support that decision.”

— With files from Abigail Turner

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, visit our coronavirus page.

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