Doctors frustrated as data suggests Manitobans still shopping, going out during lockdown

As health officials continue to announce alarming COVID-19 figures on a daily basis, doctors are frustrated by data that suggests Manitobans are not staying home to the extent they did during the first lockdown this spring.

Google Mobility data compiled and released by Doctors Manitoba shows that Manitobans are spending more time than usual at home and less in retail, recreational and work settings since the latest public health direction took effect last week on Nov. 12.

However, the data also suggests that Manitobans are going out more now than they did this spring, despite the fact there are now almost 200 people in hospital with COVID-19, compared to four at the start of April.

Doctors Manitoba looked at Google Mobility data — which tracks trends by using location history from cellphones — from Nov. 12 and 13, the two days of data available after Manitoba’s new, strict pandemic restrictions took effect. The group compared that data with data from April, as well as a baseline period from before the pandemic began.

That data shows that on Nov. 12 and 13, Manitobans spent 39 per cent less time in retail and recreational establishments compared to the baseline. In April, however, there was a 44 per cent drop compared to the baseline.

That data also shows a 17 per cent increase in time spent at home on Nov. 12 and 13, compared to the 18 per cent increase in April.

When CBC News looked at the same Google Mobility data for Nov. 15, it showed a 47 per cent drop in time spent at retail and recreational establishments and an 11 per cent increase in time spent at home, compared to before the pandemic.

While it’s good to see signs that Manitobans are staying home more, those numbers should be a lot higher given how urgent the situation is in Manitoba right now, said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, an emergency physician and president-elect of Doctors Manitoba.

“So we’re really comparing apples and oranges here, and you don’t need this data to see the worrisome trends — you just have to drive by a box store and see a full parking lot,” he said. 

“We need to be doing more because the situation is much more dire than it was in the spring.”

COVID overwhelming emergency rooms 

Thompson works in the emergency room at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital. He said he was taking care of a patient on a ventilator during a recent night shift, and also had to intubate two more patients who were suspected of having COVID-19.

In addition, he said he took care of another COVID-19 positive patient who was on the maximum level of oxygen they could be on without being intubated. 

Normally, those four patients would be in intensive care, but there were no ICU beds open at the time, he said. 

On top of all that, he had an entire emergency room to oversee. 

“We’re seeing those instances more and more, where we are dealing with scenarios that we never had to deal with in the past, and that is because we are reaching our capacity,” he said. 

Dr. Kristjan Thompson is an emergency physician and president-elect of Doctors Manitoba. (Submitted by Doctors Manitoba)

He said it’s been disheartening to see the disconnect between what he’s witnessing on the front lines and people who aren’t heeding public health advice. 

“We really want Manitobans to know just how serious this is, and the last thing I want are people to learn how serious this disease is by coming to see me in the emergency room.”

Manitoba health officials announced 400 new COVID-19 cases and 11 more deaths on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, there are a record-high 249 people in hospital, with 40 of them in intensive care.

Thompson pointed out that during the entire flu season last year, there were only about 40 people who ended up in intensive care with the flu. 

“This is certainly not the flu. This is unprecedented and it is staggering how much more serious this is.” 

A record 249 Manitobans are in hospital due to COVID-19 — more than double the number that were in hospital as of Nov. 1. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

At Wednesday’s COVID-19 update, the province’s chief public health officer again pleaded with Manitobans to stay home and only go out for essential purposes. Dr. Brent Roussin said people should be asking themselves every time they leave the house if it’s really essential to do so. 

“We’re announcing deaths every day.… Everyone can do their part and reduce contacts. And that is to, for the most part, stay home,” he said.

“And again, people shouldn’t be in these stores for non-essential purposes. So there’s no reason that these stores should be crowded right now.”

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