‘A grave situation’: Winnipeg doctors urge province to move to full lockdown

Winnipeg intensive care units have been close to capacity for at least a week and doctors around the city are urging the provincial government to move Manitoba to a full lockdown to flatten the curve of COVID-19 and protect the health-care system.

“I consider this a grave situation,” said Dr. Kelly MacDonald, chair of the Infectious Diseases program for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and infectious disease expert at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

On Sunday, 120 people were hospitalized provincewide because of COVID-19, including 18 people in the ICU, and six more deaths connected to the virus were reported.

READ MORE: ‘It’s scary’: Winnipeg hospital doctor worried about ICUs and lack of capacity

Of Manitoba’s 75 fatalities connected to COVID-19, 55 have occurred in the last month.

“We need to implement very major strategies that have a blanketing approach,” Dr. MacDonald said.

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“It’s like when you have a forest fire, you have to throw a blanket down or water bombers to completely control it, not just little spot effects.”

On Monday, the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region will move to the “critical” red level on the province’s pandemic response system, but Dr. MacDonald said it doesn’t go far enough.

“We need a complete shutdown to control it,” she said.

Dr. MacDonald said Manitoba’s low numbers throughout the summer were less about Manitoba doing anything “miraculous” and more about being “lucky.”

“The reality is, in Manitoba, we got lucky. In the spring, we were about as inept as we are now. It’s just that we didn’t have a big challenge and I think we got cocky, to be quite blunt about it.”

Dr. MacDonald joins a growing list of Manitoba doctors who believe the government needs to immediately enact a full lockdown.

On Friday, a group of 17 doctors penned a letter to Premier Brian Pallister and Health Minister Cameron Friesen that said tight restrictions are the only way to deal with the spread of the virus and the toll it’s taking on Manitoba’s health-care system.

“We urge you to go to a full shutdown immediately. This is the time. A couple of weeks from now will be too late. The result will be an appalling and pointless loss of life,” a portion of the three-page letter stated.

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READ MORE: 8 more deaths brings Manitoba’s COVID-19 death toll to 75

The doctors said despite the WRHA’s best efforts to develop additional bed and ventilator capacity, the system is being overwhelmed.

“Overall surge capacity will be limited by front-line health-care workers including nurses to provide hands-on care and respiratory technicians to operate the ventilators,” the letter said.

“Once we reach 200-250 cases per day, we will overwhelm current critical care surge capacity within a week or two.”

Manitoba had 480 new cases reported Friday, 349 on Saturday and another 312 on Sunday.

Dr. MacDonald said they need to start anticipating what those numbers will look like in the immediate weeks to come and said they still expect rapid increases to occur.

“We are going to have to look at patients and say who can best benefit,” she said. “How long will it be? Will it be another week or two weeks before we’re going to have to say, ‘who can best benefit from this ventilator? Who is most likely to survive?’”

While MacDonald and her colleagues have said it will be a tough winter and the statistics can be scary, they offered up some hope for Manitobans.

“This is not a time for us to, as you say, fearmonger by telling people to panic but it is a call to action for us to do everything we can as politicians, as members of the public, as physicians, and as citizens in Manitoba to try to prevent every last case we can so that this curve can be flattened out.”

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