'Our health system is on the brink': Manitoba reports 594 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

Manitoba public health officials pleaded with the public on Friday to do everything possible to stay home — unless they're going out to get vaccinated — as they announced 594 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths.

Manitoba sets new record 7-day average case count with 475

Manitoba's hospital ICUs are so full that five patients have been transferred out of province to Ontario. (Mikaela Mackenzie/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press)

Manitoba public health officials pleaded with the public on Friday to do everything possible to stay home — unless they're going out to get vaccinated — as they announced 594 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths.

Those deaths include two linked to the B117 coronavirus variant: a woman in her 50s from the Interlake-Eastern health region and a woman in her 90s from the Prairie Mountain Health region.

The third death, a woman in her 80s from the Prairie Mountain Health region, is linked to an outbreak at the Russell Health Centre.

The total number of COVID-related deaths in Manitoba is now 1,022. 

"Our health system is on the brink of being overwhelmed. Contingency plans are being triggered and people are tired," said Lanette Siragusa, Shared Health's chief nursing officer.

WATCH | Lanette Siragusa on our health-care system being overwhelmed:

'Our health system is on the brink': Lanette Siragusa

1 year ago
Duration 0:46
Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, urged Manitobans to follow public health orders over the long weekend as she said the province's health-care system is "on the brink" of being overwhelmed.

"So I ask again for all of you to please limit your contacts. Please stay home this weekend."

Friday's caseload is the province's second-highest daily total, only slightly lower than the record 603 announced Thursday — the same day government and health officials announced tougher public health restrictions beginning Saturday. 

The orders prohibit gathering with people from other households, both outdoors and indoors, for most people. Also, only one person per household may enter a business, with exceptions for single parents and caregivers.

Of the 594 new cases, 420 are in the Winnipeg health region, 55 are in the Southern Health region, 54 are in the Prairie Mountain Health region, 39 are in the Interlake-Eastern health region and 26 are in the Northern Health Region.

The seven-day average COVID-19 case count in Manitoba is now a record 475.

"We are at a critical time right now. Stay away from people from outside your household. If you have symptoms, get tested and stay home. Even if you're well, stay home," Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said on Friday.

"We must bring our case numbers down and reduce the growing stress on our health-care system."

The five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate continues to climb, reaching 14.1 per cent provincially (up from 13.8 on Thursday) and 16.1 per cent in Winnipeg (up from 15.3).

There are another 10 patients in Manitoba intensive care units on Friday, pushing the total to 129, which was the peak number during the second wave, Siragusa said.

A record 131 ICU patients were in Manitoba hospitals earlier this week.

Of the current ICU patients, 79 are being treated for COVID-19 and 12 of those are younger than 40, Siragusa said.

Another five patients were transferred to Ontario ICUs in Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie this week to ease some of the stress on Manitoba's critical care system, for a total of 84 Manitobans in intensive care with COVID-19.

Siragusa said up to 20 patients could eventually be sent to Ontario hospitals, including medical facilities in Sudbury, North Bay and Kenora.

Protocols are in place for deciding which COVID ICU patients can be moved.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Manitoba hospitals increased by five since Thursday, to 296.

As well, the province identified another 434 cases of more contagious variants, its online dashboard says. With two of Friday's deaths linked to variants, the total number of deaths related to variants of concern in Manitoba now sits at 45.

Emergency plans activated

The strain on the health-care system has led to a number of contingency plans being activated — such as a hybrid unit at Health Sciences Centre that is a combined pediatric and adult ICU.

As of Friday, Manitoba now has 140 ICU beds, which is nearly double the pre-COVID baseline capacity of 72, Siragusa said.

WATCH | Siragusa on contingency plans now in place:

Lanette Siragusa on "contingency plans" now in place to increase health-care capacity

1 year ago
Duration 1:47
Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer of Shared Health, said Friday Manitoba hospitals have enacted multiple contingency plans to face soaring hospitalizations for COVID-19, including the creation of a hybrid unit at Health Sciences Centre that is a combined pediatric and adult ICU.

In order to free up beds and ensure there is enough staff in place for COVID patients, non-critical surgeries are being postponed across the system, Siragusa said.

"This is a very difficult decision for us to make, but necessary," she said.

Some of the hospital burden has also been reduced by sending patients to personal care homes. As of April 20, 317 patients who had already qualified for care homes, but were waiting for available spaces, have been moved. 

That has freed up a number of hospital resources, Siragusa said.

Both she and Atwal strongly encouraged people to get their COVID-19 vaccinations and prevent the health-care system from becoming even more overburdened.

"I know everyone is ready for it [the pandemic] to be over and you are looking forward to the opportunity to gather together and celebrate milestones again. We are close to the end of this and our vaccines are proving to work," Siragusa said.

"We need to push this a little bit longer."

Bookings for second-dose vaccinations opened up Friday for people with certain health conditions.

Earlier on Friday, Dr. Marcia Anderson, the head of the Manitoba First Nations pandemic response team, announced Indigenous people in Manitoba can start booking their vaccination appointments on Monday.

"Let's sign up for those doses and get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible," Atwal said.

"We're going to vaccinate our way out of this pandemic. We're going to vaccinate our way out of having acute-care system issues. So that's what we need Manitobans to do."

'We're all responsible': Atwal

A month ago, Atwal noted Ontario's surging COVID-19 caseload and said that province probably waited too long to take action. He told the public that day that Manitoba would not go down the same road.

Atwal was asked Friday to explain how the government and public health allowed the situation to reach a point where Manitoba is now relying on Ontario to take some patients from this province.

"You know, when I made that comment … we were anticipating people to adhere to the orders. I don't think this is a failure of any one particular entity," he said.

"Every Manitoban needs to look in the mirror. We're all responsible for our interactions. We're all responsible for adhering to the orders and adhering to the messaging. We're all responsible."

He cited a Mother's Day potluck that led to several cases, along with parties, bonfires and sleepovers he said are still happening.

Asked why campgrounds where people use shared bathroom facilities remain open, Atwal didn't answer directly but repeated the messaging of adherence.

"We need Manitobans to really adhere to stop those interactions," he said.

Individual campsites are only to be used by people from the same household, Atwal said.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | May 20, 2021:

Manitoba government daily briefing on coronavirus: May, 21

1 year ago
Duration 55:02
Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Friday, May 21, 2021.


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.