Will the new restrictions in Manitoba go far enough? Experts weigh in

WINNIPEG — One of the main reasons for ratcheting up Manitoba’s COVID-19 restrictions is the impact the surge in cases is having on the health care system.

Officials said Friday it’s being pushed to a tipping point and doctors have been speaking out for days about the dire consequences of not acting.

That includes a recent letter in which several physicians outlined their concerns to the health minister and the premier.

One of those physicians, Dr. Anand Kumar, said in an email to CTV News he isn’t sure the new restrictions — moving the Winnipeg region to red and rest of Manitoba to orange on the province’s pandemic response system — go far enough.

“I hope so but I don’t think they do,” said Kumar in an email to CTV News. “They might work, more likely they’ll just slow things down and we’ll still have to lockdown 4-6 weeks from now instead of 2-3 weeks from now, maybe sooner.”

He’s among a group of several doctors who had been calling for a full province-wide lockdown, like the one in spring, to help the health care system cope and prevent deaths.

HEALTH OFFICIALS SAY NUMBERS WILL ‘STRIKE FEAR’ IN MANITOBA

Across the city as of Friday morning, the intensive care unit hit 96 per cent capacity.

Manitoba saw 68 of 71 critical beds, where doctors and nurses treat the sickest patients, were occupied — 19 of those beds taken up by people with COVID-19.

“The numbers today will strike fear in many Manitobans,” said Lanette Siragusa, Shared Health’s chief nursing officer and provincial lead on health system integration and quality. 

“With these daily case counts increasing we can expect there’s going to be more hospitalizations in the next week or two.”

Siragusa said 99 surgeries have been cancelled this week due to COVID-19 pressures, 72 of them at St. Boniface Hospital.

Moving forward under code red, non-urgent and elective surgeries and diagnostics are being suspended. Essential and time-sensitive surgeries — cancer, cardiac and trauma treatment — will continue.

‘WE ARE AT A TURNING POINT NOW’: ROUSSIN CALLS FOR DRAMATIC CHANGE

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said he’s confident the tighter restrictions will reduce daily case counts by cutting down community spread, thus easing the burden on the health care system.

“We are at a turning point right now,” said Roussin. “If we don’t make a dramatic change, we’re going to see our health care system significantly strained.”

In their letter to the premier and health minister, the group of doctors outlined disastrous effects — more deaths, delays in emergency care and urgent surgeries — without a full province-wide lockdown.

One of those physicians is Dr. Allan Ronald, an internationally recognized expert in infectious disease. Ronald said only time will tell if the new restrictions go far enough.

He said it’s clear something significant had to be done.

“This thing’s getting away on us,” said Ronald. “We’re going to start having people dying because we don’t have the resources in ICUs in Winnipeg.”

NURSES DEALING WITH CRUSHING WORKLOAD, UNION SAYS

Thursday night COVID-19 played a role in pushing critical care at St. Boniface over capacity. 

For nurses, it’s a constant struggle. They’re dealing with crushing workloads, according to the head of their union.

“I’ve been hearing all week from nurses in facilities who are saying, ‘we’re going to be at capacity and we have no flex in the system and we’re going to need help very quickly,’” said Manitoba Nurses’ Union president Darlene Jackson.

Part of the problem is a staffing shortage. Outbreaks, potential exposures and cases of COVID-19 have sidelined several nurses and health care workers.

Both Victoria General Hospital and St. Boniface Hospital are still dealing with outbreaks in two units each.

CHIEF NURSING OFFICER ANNOUNCES PHASED APPROACH

In order to deal with the capacity issues, Siragusa outlined a phased approach to expand the number of beds

Phase one is expected to happen within the next week. It involves freeing up existing capacity within medicine and critical care units to expand beds and redeploying staff who may be freed up from the cancellation of surgeries to staff those new beds.

If needed, phase two would involve expanding beds in other areas. And phase three would see the least sick non-COVID patients moved out of hospital to other facilities.

Officials said patients will be contacted if their surgeries are affected.

General visits at all Manitoba hospitals have once again been suspended, with exceptions for end-of-life care, labour and delivery and pediatrics.

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