Manitoba’s top doctor to field questions as respiratory virus numbers climb

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, will hold a town hall Tuesday night to answer parents' questions as the number of children with respiratory viruses climbs in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba’s chief public health officer is scheduled to take part in a telephone town hall Tuesday night as the number of children with respiratory viruses climbs.

With hospital resources being strained and school absences rising, Dr. Brent Roussin said he hopes to answer parents’ questions and deliver a plea to take preventive measures.

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“We normally see these viruses throughout the respiratory virus season, but we sort of got hit with them all at once,” Roussin said Monday.

The province is dealing with COVID-19, the seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. The latter two occur every year, but have hit hard, early and simultaneously this autumn.

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Doctors Manitoba, which represents some 4,000 physicians and medical students, has warned that hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed in the near future.

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The problem is especially noticeable among children. The children’s hospital in Winnipeg is already struggling to keep up with a surge in demand.

The Louis Riel School Division, one of several in the city, has seen total student absences, which include any reason for missing school, roughly triple since the start of the school year.

Almost one in five students was absent Monday.

Roussin will be joined in the town hall by Dr. Elisabete Doyle, medical director and section head of pediatric emergency medicine at the children’s hospital.

They will tell parents about where kids can be taken if they fall ill, Roussin said, including medical clinics, emergency departments and urgent care centres — an option for any incident that is not life-threatening.

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The town hall will also deal with preventive measures such as handwashing, getting flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and wearing a mask in indoor places, especially those that are crowded or poorly ventilated.

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Roussin said there are no current plans to make mask use mandatory in indoor public places, as was done earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We don’t have any limits on, say, private gatherings so masks in public could only have so much effect when we’re not going to be able to mandate it in private settings and all the interaction that goes on,” Roussin said.

“We’re just not wanting to mandate it at this point. We don’t think that that’s going to be a necessary approach.”

Parents who want to take part in the town hall are being asked to provide their contact information on the government’s public engagement website.

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