Manitobans could overwhelm cottage country if they vacation during pandemic, health officials warn

Health officials say cottagers would overwhelm smaller communities if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 this summer.

'Respect the essential part of essential travel,' Kenora emergency physician Dr. Sean Moore says

Dr. Sean Moore is the chief of emergency services at Lake of the Woods District Hospital. (Submitted by Sean Moore)

An emergency room doctor in Kenora says his hospital will be overwhelmed if Manitobans continue to head to their summer homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We want people to respect the essential part of essential travel," said Dr. Sean Moore, chief of emergency services at Lake of the Woods District Hospital.

"It's not essential to go into a camp if you have another home in Winnipeg. Please, I would plead with people to try and respect the fact that we're all trying to do our best to muck through this time of COVID."

The Manitoba government is advising cottage owners not to go to their summer properties during the pandemic — in or out of province.

"Travelling to the cottage — to rural areas — where you might be seeking health care, should you need, could potentially overwhelm those areas," said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer.

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Moore has already seen Manitobans who decided to "weather the COVID storm" in their northwestern Ontario cottages.

There are several issues with that idea, he said.

First, those Manitobans came back from international travel and decided to self-isolate in their cottages, but instead ended up in his emergency room for different reasons.

Next, five of the hospital's physicians are in quarantine with flu-like symptoms.

The backfill doctors from southern Ontario who would normally come and pick up shifts are working at their regular hospitals or are in quarantine themselves.

And finally, the local hospital only has four ICU beds.

Government and health-care officials say the Lake of the Woods District Hospital would be overwhelmed if Manitobans summered at their cottages during the pandemic. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

"We're talking to military, Doctors Without Borders, all kinds of people to see if there's a way to get some help to dig us out of this mess when it comes to our communities," Moore said.

Moore urges Manitobans to stay in their main home — not their summer home.

"Stay where your doctor is, because we can't provide that care that's going to be necessary," he said.

"If, for some reason, you need to get to the emergency department, it's going to be a mess."

Health before tourism

The Ontario government echoes those concerns. On Sunday, Premier Doug Ford urged people not to wait out the pandemic in cottage country.

Now the message has to get across to Manitobans, said Greg Rickford, the member of provincial parliament for Kenora-Rainy River.

"Now, we love Manitobans in Kenora. They're our peeps," Rickford said. "But right now, we just can't handle the load."

Greg Rickford, MPP for Kenora-Rainy River, says northwestern Ontario relies on Manitobans for tourism, but can't handle the extra people during the pandemic. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Though limited travel is what's best for the health of people in northwestern Ontario, the local economy will suffer, Rickford said.

"The tourism sector, we anticipate, will be rocked by this," he said. "Hopefully we may be able to salvage part of this summer, but right now, it's looking dicey."

Distancing at the lake

The province of Manitoba also is asking people not to go to their cottages within our borders for the same reason: possible stress on smaller health-care facilities.

However, Winnipegger Jeff Douglas said he still plans to visit his Manitoba cottage on weekends while practicing safe physical distancing.

"I don't disagree with the province saying don't go because you might be taxing the system," said Douglas, who has property at Twin Lakes Beach on Lake Manitoba, about 75 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

"But if I go up there and practice social distancing and stay to myself — and just stay to the people that are in my cabin, who are also part of my family that I've been with for the last two weeks anyway — what difference does it make?"

Douglas said if his cottage were in a different province, he wouldn't go, but since it's so close, and the lots are so far apart, he can still self-isolate.

His neighbours have been out to the lake, and he expects that to continue, he said.

"If we go out there and practice all the protocols and recommendations of the government, then what's wrong with going out there and hanging out at your cabin instead of your house — which is right next door to your neighbour anyway," he said.

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Sam Samson


Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email