‘We can’t plateau at this level’: top doctor, health minister weigh in on high daily case counts

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s health minister Cameron Friesen was forced to clarify comments made on his Facebook page which stated daily case numbers of COVID-19 in the province have plateaued, but are too high.

Critics argue the post, which has since been removed, isn’t reflective of the situation in Manitoba.

Friesen pointed out similar language has been used in recent days by the chief provincial public health officer.

The post stated: “Manitoba’s COVID-19 daily case numbers appear to have plateaued but are too high.”

“It’s clear that things did not plateau,” NDP leader Wab Kinew told reporters.

Liberal leader Dougald Lamont called the health minister’s messaging reckless. 

“He’s basically encouraging people to let down their guard by saying ‘oh it looks like cases have plateaued,’” Lamont said.

Friesen clarified the comments when grilled during question period and then again in a scrum with reporters.

“We’re not at 800, we’re not at 1,200. We’re at 400. That number has remained flat. That’s indisputable. The number’s flat,” said Friesen, who stressed the bottom line is people need to stay home and bring the numbers down. “I think perhaps too much is being made of a word that the chief provincial public health officer used once or twice but there’s no argument here, the number’s too high.”

On Monday, Dr. Brent Roussin made a similar observation about daily case counts.

“Things are plateauing at a number, plateauing at a number that we can’t sustain,” Roussin said Monday. “That also suggests that some of these restrictions are stopping that exponential growth that we would have with unchecked spread.”

While the province’s data shows a rising curve of total and active cases, the number of new cases reported each day has been hovering around 400 – sometimes above, sometimes below – over the past few weeks.

When asked Thursday if cases have plateaued, the chief provincial public health officer had this to say:

“It’s hard to say in epidemiological terms we’ve necessarily plateaued. We certainly haven’t seen the exponential growth, so some things there that’s prohibiting that at the time being,” Roussin said. “Even if we are at a plateau right now, we’ve plateaued at a level we can’t sustain. We have to bring these numbers down. We can’t plateau at this level.”

Virologist Jason Kindrachuk said with new deaths and hospitalizations reported each day it’s important messaging to the public about the pandemic stays clear.

“We’ve heard a lot of epidemiologists and public health folks talk about, really since probably cases first started showing up in Canada and in Manitoba, is this idea of not looking what’s happening day-to-day because there are going to be those fluctuations,” said Kindrachuk, an assistant professor in medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses.

“We can see some days where numbers may drop down but by the next day suddenly we have that plus a backlog from the prior day.” 

“I would still wait until we hear those official announcements from epidemiologists and public health experts saying, ‘yes this is where the situation is.’” 

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