8 more deaths of Manitobans with COVID-19, 111 more hospitalizations reported in 1st weekly update

Manitoba reported eight more deaths of people with COVID-19 on Thursday and 111 more people with the illness admitted to hospital, in the first of its now weekly updates on the virus.

Data in weekly updates released with 1-week delay

A nurse attends to a COVID-19 positive patient in an intensive care unit. Manitoba has scaled back its reporting on coronavirus numbers to only provide an update once a week, instead of every weekday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Manitoba reported eight more deaths of people with COVID-19 on Thursday and 111 more people with the illness admitted to hospital in the first of its now weekly coronavirus updates.

The latest epidemiological report, which reflects data from the week of March 20 to 26, comes as the province has stopped updating the various online dashboards it had used to keep the public informed about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and testing numbers throughout the pandemic.

That shift was announced last week.

Five of the latest deaths announced were reported Saturday: three men from the Winnipeg health region (in their 50s, 60s and 80s), and two other men in their 60s (from the Prairie Mountain Health and Northern Health regions), the province said later Thursday in a news release, which it said would be its last scheduled COVID-19 bulletin.

The province's release also announced six other deaths reported since Sunday.

The death of a woman in her 80s linked to an outbreak at Winnipeg's Actionmarguerite St. Vital was reported Sunday, while the death of another woman in her 80s from the Prairie Mountain Health region was reported Monday. The death of a woman in her 70s from the Winnipeg health region was reported Wednesday, the release said.

The other three deaths were reported on Thursday: a woman in her 70s from the Southern Health region, a man in his 80s from the Interlake-Eastern health region and a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg health region.

Over the past few weeks, the number of deaths reported varied, from five in the last weekly update to 24 around the beginning of March.

Manitoba also changed its definition of what's considered a COVID-19 death earlier this month.

Before March 15, the definition included deaths that resulted "from a clinically compatible illness" — unless there was a clear alternate cause that couldn't have been related to COVID-19, such as trauma.

The previous definition also only applied if there was no period of complete recovery between a person's COVID-19 infection and their death.

Now, COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba are defined as anyone who died within 30 days after a positive lab-confirmed test (specifically, the earliest specimen collection date in the most recent investigation).

The reason for the person's death no longer has to be attributable to COVID-19 — a positive lab test within that window is now considered enough.

Hospitalization data

The province is still reporting data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, but it also looks a little different now.

Instead of painting a complete picture of how many COVID-19 patients are currently in hospital, the data now presents a snapshot of how many people were admitted during a given week.

The latest weekly update included the 111 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 16 being ICU admissions, over the March 20 to 26 period.

That hospitalization number is down from the last few weeks, when it hovered between 120 and 160.

However, intensive care admissions last week were the highest since the week that included the first days of March, when there were 22 ICU admissions.

Despite the change in how often data is made public, the province is still regularly tracking total hospital and intensive care numbers linked to the illness, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Wednesday.

"Public health monitors a variety of different viruses…. It's very extensive, and as the conditions vary, [as] they fluctuate and trend up and down, they decide on the frequency of the release of the information," Gordon said at a news conference.

"I can have conversations with them about the frequency and they decide as a public health agency how often they will release that information. They've now decided it will be weekly because the numbers are trending down. And I support that decision."

The latest update shows another 979 cases of the illness confirmed during the week the report covers. That represents a bit of a drop from the previous few weeks, when weekly case counts were above 1,000.

The update also shows a slight drop from the previous week in the average number of lab tests done each day (982, down from 1,023) and the weekly test positivity rate (13.9 per cent, down from 14.5).

Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon says the province is still tracking total hospital and intensive care numbers linked to COVID-19, even though it's not making them public anymore. (Thomas Asselin/Radio-Canada)

But those numbers don't include people who do rapid antigen tests at home, as Manitoba continues to severely restrict access to PCR tests.

The update also shows a COVID-19 outbreak declared at the Boyne Lodge care home in Carman, Man., during the week the report covers.

Provincial testing sites to close

Thursday's update comes as Manitoba announced several changes in how PCR testing in the province will work moving forward.

Starting Friday, public health will no longer notify people about their positive PCR test results, a memo from Shared Health sent Wednesday said. That task will be handed to primary care providers who order the tests — which are more sensitive than rapid tests — for their patients, the memo said.

The update from the organization, which oversees health-care delivery in Manitoba, also said all provincial testing sites will close on April 15. Several sites will also change their hours starting Friday, the province's news release said.

That shift comes as testing volumes at the sites drop to about 200 swabs a day across the province, the memo said.

Testing sites at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Dakota Medical Centre and the Minor Illness and Injury Clinic's drive-thru site in Winnipeg will stay open for a period of time after the other sites close. Pre-operative patients who need test results will still be able to make appointments, the province said.

Shared Health said it's aiming to have more information on the change for health-care providers by next week.


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