Manitoba's actual daily COVID-19 numbers likely 8-10 times higher than reported figures: Dr. Atwal

Manitoba reported 1,790 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday but the true number is likely far higher — as much eight to 10 times that, says Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Jazz Awtal.

1,790 cases reported Wednesday, but actual number likely 16,000 to 17,000: deputy chief public health officer

The five-day test positivity rate for Manitoba is 40.3 per cent. A month ago it was just above five per cent. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Manitoba reported 1,790 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday but the true number is likely far higher — as much eight to 10 times that, says Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Jazz Awtal.

"There's lots of cases we don't know about. Historically, with the … Delta [coronavirus variant], we knew for every case we identified, we missed out on four," he said at a news conference.

"With this Omicron variant, likely for every case we identified, we're missing out maybe eight, maybe 10 cases."

So the number of daily cases could actually be 16,000 to 17,000, Atwal said, underscoring that is an estimate "based on how infectious this [variant] is."

That means daily case counts are no longer the most accurate reflection of the virus's impact in the province because many cases are never reported.

There is also a backlog of 6,800 unprocessed PCR tests from provincial test sites, due to soaring demand.

To ease that backlog, some test sites are giving people rapid tests to take home instead of taking samples for a PCR. 

Rapid test results are not entered into the provincial database. Instead, people are told to stay home and isolate.

Hospitalization and intensive care unit numbers are now a much better reflection the pandemic's effect on the population and impact on the health-care system, Atwal said.

As of Wednesday, there are 252 people with COVID-19 in Manitoba hospitals, an increase of one from Tuesday. That includes 30 in intensive care units, down by two.

As has been the pattern for the past couple of weeks, most of the new cases reported Wednesday are in the Winnipeg health region, which has 1,320.

The Southern Health region reported 190 new cases, the Interlake-Eastern health region has 116, the Northern Health Region has 84 and the Prairie Mountain Health region has 80.

A breakdown of the latest cases by vaccination status can be viewed on a chart on the government website.

Atwal said early data from new pandemic modelling in Manitoba has been prepared but public health is going over it before it is released.

Last month, the province unveiled modelling based on data from other regions that suggested Manitoba could see 1,000 cases of COVID-19 a day in the new year. Reported daily case counts have been over 1,000 every day since Dec. 30.

For the past week or two, the majority of new cases in Manitoba have been caused by the Omicron variant, but the Delta variant is still circulating, Atwal said.

It remains the dominant strain in the Northern Health Region and on First Nations, where Omicron has not yet been detected. Delta is also predominant in the Southern Health region, though the numbers are shifting toward Omicron, he said.

Atwal said the increased spread has meant the province has had to "adapt and shift" its response, as it has since the start of the pandemic, "but the pace continues to accelerate."

That response includes a change, effective Wednesday, to eligibility for PCR tests at provincial sites. To protect capacity, those tests will now be limited to those with COVID-19 symptoms and those advised by public health to go to a testing site.

Provincial test positivity rate surpasses 40%

The five-day test positivity rate in Manitoba is 40.3 per cent, up from 39.5 on Tuesday. A month earlier it was just above five per cent.

In Winnipeg, the rate is 48 per cent. It was 32.2 on Friday, the last time it was reported.

The province reported 8,960 new COVID-19 cases from Saturday to Wednesday, with a record high of 1,939 on Sunday.

Atwal said people should expect to see higher cases counts in the days to come as the testing backlog is processed.

He wouldn't speculate on what, if any, new public health measures may be required. The current orders expire Jan. 11.

Though up to 10 vaccinated visitors are allowed inside a home — not counting the people that live there — Atwal advised staying well under that limit while Omicron is so rampant.

He compared the orders to a speed limit in poor weather — although a certain number is allowed, it's not advisable or safe.

"So if we're planning on interacting with 10 people this week, cut it down to two people. Let's do our part," he said.

The province also reported two more deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday — a man in his 70s from the Winnipeg health region and a woman in her 60s from the Northern Health Region. Both are linked to an unspecified variant of concern.

More details were also released about eight other deaths since the last news bulletin was issued on Friday. They include five from Saturday — a man in his 70s from the Prairie Mountain Health region, two men in their 70s from the Southern Health region, a man in his 70s from the Winnipeg health region and a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg health region.

There was one death on Monday, a man in his 60s from the Winnipeg health region, and two on Tuesday — a woman in her 90s from the Winnipeg region and a woman in her 80s from Southern Health.

The total number of deaths in the province related to COVID-19 is now 1,402 and the number of reported active cases is 18,844.

As of midnight, there were 92 patients in intensive care units across Manitoba. That includes those receiving care for COVID-19 and non-COVID patients, a Shared Health spokesperson said.

The critical care program's normal, pre-COVID baseline capacity was 72 patients.

Several new outbreaks have been declared:

  • Unit 4W at Riverview Health Centre in Winnipeg.
  • Unit 4U 8-12 at Seven Oaks General Hospital in Winnipeg.
  • Unit GA5/GA5 step down at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.
  • Unit GD4 at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.
  • Unit GA4 at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.
  • In-patient unit at Pinawa General Hospital in Pinawa.
  • Oakview Place personal care home in Winnipeg.
  • Actionmarguerite St. Vital personal care home in Winnipeg.
  • Golden Links Lodge personal care home in Winnipeg.
  • Holy Family personal care home in Winnipeg.
  • Tuxedo Villa personal care home in Winnipeg.
  • St. Amant Centre in Winnipeg.
  • Milner Ridge Correctional Centre in Beausejour.
  • Middlechurch Home personal care home in Winnipeg.
  • Misericordia Health Centre's transitional care unit C5 in Winnipeg.

Outbreaks at Heritage Lodge personal care home in Winnipeg, École Regent Park in Winnipeg, the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage la Prairie and Meadows School in Brandon have now been declared over.

60 warnings, 26 tickets over 2 weeks

The province also said Wednesday that enforcement officers handed out 60 warnings and 26 tickets for violations of pandemic-related health orders between Dec. 20 and Jan. 2.

The fines totalled $24,694.

One ticket, for $8,550, was given to an individual under the federal Quarantine Act, while four other people each received tickets of $1,296 for various offences.

Another 20 tickets, for $298 each, were given for failure to wear a mask in an indoor public place. One $5,000 ticket went to a restaurant in Morden.

Twelve of the 26 tickets were issued in the Southern Health region. Ten were given out in the Winnipeg region, two in Northern Health, and one each in the Interlake-Eastern and Prairie Mountain regions.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Jan. 5, 2022:

Manitoba government daily briefing on coronavirus: Jan. 5

2 years ago
Duration 58:35
Featured VideoProvincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.