Lock down Manitoba because ‘it’s too late’ for targeted restrictions, doctors tell premier, health minister

The time is now for a provincewide shutdown due to surging COVID-19 numbers straining the health-care system, 12 Manitoba doctors say.

In a letter addressed to the premier and health minister published by the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, the doctors say they feel duty bound to express their concerns about where things are heading.

“We’re well past the stage where even a robust community response will significantly slow the epidemic. Fortunately, your government has already shown us what needs to be done,” the letter says.

What’s needed is mass closures like those implemented in Manitoba and elsewhere when COVID-19 emerged in the spring, the letter says.

Once Manitoba hits over 200 daily cases, COVID-19 “will overwhelm resources” in a span of one or two weeks, the doctors say.

“We cannot allow this epidemic to progress unchecked.”

Manitoba has recently repeatedly broken records for test positivity, daily cases, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions.

Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate set a new record on Thursday, at 7.8 per cent. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Two of the doctors who signed the letter have expressed concerns to CBC News this week — Dr. Anand Khan, an intensive care unit physician at Health Sciences Centre and infectious disease expert, and Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a medical microbiologist and physician at St. Boniface Hospital.

The 12 doctors say the springtime lockdown effectively “crushed the progress of infection within weeks” because of widespread collaboration among communities and government.

Manitobans “bore tremendous hardship” due to that lockdown to protect the vulnerable, but lifting restrictions let the virus back in, they say.

Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens said this week that people need to drastically reduce the number of contacts they have in order to bring down the spike in COVID-19 cases. (Philippe Lagace-Wiens/Facebook)

The doctors say the same sacrifice is warranted again because evidence suggests the spread is in the early stages of exponential growth.

They point to El Paso, Texas — a community with roughly the same population size as Winnipeg — as an example of why the current incremental targeted approach, or escalation strategy, won’t get things under control in Manitoba.

The targeted approach has involved ramping up restrictions in hot spots, then gradually phasing them out as conditions improve.

Manitoba reported 193 new COVID-19 cases on Oct. 29, setting a new record for the most new cases announced in a single day. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

El Paso had daily case counts between 150 and 200 as of Oct. 1, but by mid-month those counts ballooned to between 350 and 550 per day, the doctors say. By Thursday of this week the Texas city had registered 1,100 cases in one day, more than 900 people were in hospital, over 220 were in ICUs and 111 were being ventilated.

“We simply don’t have that kind of capacity, even with emergency measures,” the doctors warn.

The targeted incremental approach won’t work in Manitoba anymore, the doctors say.

Hospitalizations have risen sharply in Manitoba in recent days. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

“This incremental approach [is] not suited for epidemics involving a rapidly progressive and dangerous infection such as the COVID-19 virus. And it will fail,” the letter says.

“By the time definitive evidence of failure of the incremental targeted approach to stop epidemic progression is apparent, it’s too late. You are two or three weeks behind. A targeted intervention we start today might work if that intervention had an immediate impact. It does not. The number of infections we are seeing now was determined by our interventions (or lack of them) several weeks ago.”

Manitoba’s intensive care bed capacity is “dwindling,” Shared Health’s chief nursing officer said Wednesday. St. Boniface Hospital, where there’s an outbreak, officially ran out of ICU beds Thursday.

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Thursday the current approach isn’t working, and he hinted more restrictions would be coming soon.

The following doctors signed the letter:

  • Anand Kumar.
  • Dan Roberts.
  • R. Bruce Light.
  • Eric Jacobsohn.
  • Steven Kowalski.
  • Allan Ronald.
  • Greg Hammond.
  • Fred Aoki.
  • Philippe Lagacé-Wiens.
  • Terry Wuerz.
  • Shelly Zubert.
  • Faisal Siddiqui.

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