COVID-19 Update – February 1

Situation Update

Since our last update on Thursday, 523 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified, including just 89 new cases today. This brings the total case count in Manitoba to 29,651.

The five-day test positivity rate is 7.9%, down from 8.7% on Thursday. It is 4.2% in Winnipeg, down from 5.4%.

Of the 89 new cases today, only 18 were in Winnipeg. This appears to be the lowest new case count since in the region since September. Nearly half of the cases today are from Northern Manitoba, with 22 from Interlake-Eastern.

Dr. Roussin explained today that part of the Interlake-Eastern Region’s cases are being driven by a concerning trend emerging in Pauingassi First Nation, located on the East side of Lake Winnipeg. Officials have worked with the Chief and Council, who have directed residents to stay at home and avoid gatherings.

In Northern Manitoba, cases continue to rise as well, with 1,897 active cases today accounting for over half of all active cases in Manitoba. While restrictions were eased in other parts of Manitoba in January, the full code red restrictions remained in the North. Today, public health officials are loosening the restrictions in the North to allow shopping for non-essential items. This change is being made not because the situation has improved, but rather because there was a significant amount of travel from the North to Winnipeg for non-essential shopping. Officials hope this change will reduce the travel and also reduce the risk of spread.

There are currently 3,466 active COVID-19 cases province-wide, nearly the same as last Thursday.

Eleven more deaths related to COVID-19 have been identified since Thursday, including three today. A total of 832 Manitobans have died due to COVID-19.

You can learn more in today’s public health bulletin.

Health System Capacity

There are currently 255 patients in hospital today related to COVID-19, down from 277 on Thursday. This is the lowest number of hospitalizations since November 18 and an improvement from the peak of 388 COVID-related hospitalizations.

This includes104 patients with active infections, and 151 who are no longer infectious but still require hospital care.

It also includes 37 patients in ICU. ICUs are still over capacity today, with 102 in ICU today. This has improved from the peak of 129 in ICU.

COVID outbreaks in health facilities are improving as well, with 5 outbreaks today in hospitals and 26 in PCHs.

Health care worker sick time, another indicator of the health system’s capacity, is also improving. The last two weeks in Winnipeg were apparently on par with similar periods in previous pre-pandemic years.

Lanette Siragusa from Shared Health was cautiously optimistic in sharing this update today, noting the “improved numbers across the board” are encouraging.

Even with these positive trends, Ms. Siragusa noted that the health system is still vulnerable. Surgeries are being resumed, but very gradually. “This is intended to be a slow and cautious,” she explained.

This week, an additional surgery slate is being added at Misericordia Health Centre in Winnipeg to add some eye and pediatric dental procedures. Another additional slate may resume at Concordia Hospital to increase capacity for orthopedic, spine and plastic surgeries.

Carmen Hospital is resuming endoscopy, with other sites in the Southern and Prairie Mountain Health Region resuming surgeries too. Capacity has also been added in Thompson, provincial officials reported.

Vaccine Webinar

Join us this Wednesday for a special webinar on addressing vaccine hesitancy. This responds to a major request from members, and over 150 physicians have already registered so far. You can still register!

The webinar will include a presentation on vaccine hesitancy, why it is a complicated issue, patients’ perspectives, and concrete and effective strategies for how physicians can approach patients about vaccines. This will include emerging findings from current research with the public about the COVID-19 vaccines. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A to allow physicians the opportunity to ask questions and share their experience about what works, and what doesn’t, in responding to vaccine hesitancy.

The session will include presentations from an expert panel, including:

  • Dr. S Michelle Driedger (PhD), a vaccine communication researcher and Community Health Sciences Professor at the University of Manitoba
  • Dr. Jen Potter, a family physician and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine with a research interest in vaccine hesitancy
  • Mr. Andrew Swan, General Counsel for Doctors Manitoba, will also join the panel for questions about professional and legal obligations related to informed consent.

Dr. Cory Baillie, our President, will join to host the webinar.

Webinar Details

When you register, you will have a chance to submit questions in advance for the panel. You’ll also have a chance to ask them live during the webinar.

Vaccine Rollout Update

While no new appointments are available in Winnipeg or Brandon immunization super sites, appointments are still available in Thompson, which opened today, as well as pop-up clinics planned next week in The Pas and Flin Flon. Eligibility for the vaccine has not changed, other than clarifying which hospital units in The Pas, Flin Flon and Thompson are considered designated COVID-19 wards. You can view the current health care worker eligibility on the provincial government’s site.

So far, 41,817 doses of the vaccine have been administered, including 9,356 second doses. Immunization teams have completed visits to all personal care homes in the province for residents’ first doses, with very strong uptake reported at every facility. Second dose visits in PCHs will start next week. These mobile teams will also start other immunizing higher-risk Manitobans in congregate living situations this week, such as KeKiNan Centre and the Manitoba Developmental Centre.

Provincial officials and the First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team announced plans today to prioritize additional vaccine doses to protect First Nations people from COVID-19. All 63 First Nations have received a share of the initial 5,300 Moderna doses to immunize health care workers in remote communities as well as residents and staff of PCHs or elder care facilities, individuals over 60 in remote communities, and individuals over 70 in non-remote communities.

An additional 1,200 doses are being added to expand eligibility to:

  • Health care workers in non-remote First Nations communities
  • First Nations alternative isolation accommodation workers
  • Traditional healers and knowledge keepers as a key part of the health workforce

Eligible individuals in Northern Affairs communities will also be eligible over the next two weeks, including Ilford, York Landing, Thicket Portage, Lynn Lake, Leaf Rapids and Gillam, as well as in Churchill.

When Manitoba starts rolling out age-based immunization of the general population, eligibility for First Nations people will be set 20 years lower. So, when those over 80 are eligible in the general population, First Nations people over 60 will be eligible. Dr. Marcia Anderson explained this “will ensure the same level of risk experienced by First Nations people at younger ages is adequately addressed.”

Additional details on the First Nation immunization rollout are available here.

What’s it like getting immunized?

The province rolled out its immunization plans and eligibility priority last week, though health care providers have been eligible for several weeks. Some of our members who provide direct patient care in specific settings have already begun to get the vaccine. While the immunization rollout has not gone as quickly as originally promised, the physicians we spoke to have reported a mostly positive vaccination experience.

Dr. Selena Papetti, who works at the Whitemouth PCH as part of her practice, eagerly anticipated being eligible. After booking her appointment, she made her way to Winnipeg to get her shot. From an attendant making the parking ‘touchless’ to quick and thorough disinfection, Dr. Papetti’s experience proved to be quick and relatively painless as she was in and out in under half an hour, including the required 15-minute observation period. Even her fear of needles and forgetting where she parked her car couldn’t dampen her spirits. She reports wanting to do a fist pump to celebrate, like the “end scene of the Breakfast Club Movie,” as she walked into the post-vaccine monitoring area.

In addition to immunizers, the provincial super site clinics have navigators and other staff to help offer an orderly and seamless process to those being immunized.

The vaccine process went just as smoothly for Dr. Ryan Sustrik, an emergency specialist at St. Boniface Hospital. Though his second dose resulted in a low-grade fever, muscle aches and nightmares, the sense of relief in knowing he is less likely to contract COVID-19 and spread it to his family far outweighed the mild side effects. With vaccine hesitancy in the news, Dr. Sustrik wants patients considering immunization to know that “it’s such a worthwhile act to be brave for our communities.”

Some physicians may find their sense of relief overshadowed by a sense of guilt at having been one of the first Manitobans to be protected against COVID-19. Dr. Papetti wishes she could have given up her spot to her brother, who she views as more at risk than herself. It’s important to remember that as physicians, your own health and wellness allows you to give patients the care they deserve. Protecting physicians keeps Manitobans safe and demonstrates the overwhelming confidence doctors have in these new vaccines.

To find out when you might be eligible to be immunized, as a physician, use this trial calculator we created.

Allocation Announcement

In case you missed it, earlier today we were able to confirm the details on an increase to medical remuneration, effective April 1, 2021.

The 0.75% increase is part of the current four-year Master Agreement with the provincial government, which will also deliver a 1% increase next year.

Over the last several weeks, Doctors Manitoba and provincial government officials worked to finalize the allocation of the 0.75% increase for fee-for-service medical remuneration, to address priorities identified by physicians and the health system. Fee-for-service remuneration will rise by 0.75% overall, with the increased funding targeting specific prioritized tariffs. Each bloc will receive details on tariff changes in the next few days.

All alternatively-funded contracts will also increase by 0.75%, including specialist on-call rates.

You can read more about the remuneration increase in a President`s Letter to members earlier today.

Enjoy the Outdoors

With warmer weather today, it’s a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Today, the province confirmed that it is waiving all entry fees for provincial parks for the month of February.

Free entry to provincial parks was actually an idea Doctors Manitoba recommended late last year based on advice from physicians. Three quarters of doctors who completed our survey on restrictions recommended free park access as a way to promote safe outdoor physical activity during continued public health restrictions. 93% of physicians indicated they were worried about the physical, mental and emotional health of their patients during tight restrictions.

You can learn more about Manitoba’s provincial parks online. Interpreters are offering online events and webinars to promote outdoor activities, including learning to cross-country ski and kick-sledding demonstrations. You can learn more at www.manitobaparks.com.

Share Your Views on Virtual Care

University of Manitoba Researchers are looking for input about physicians’ and patients’ experiences with virtual care. They are conducting focus groups with honorariums for those who can participate. They will also be working with interested physicians to pilot a patient feedback system linked to EMRs to get patient views using a survey tool.

The study looks at how virtual care has been implemented, patients’ experiences and perspectives, and how virtual care can be sustained and improved beyond the pandemic.

If you are interested in participating, or in getting more information, please contact Dr. Alanna Baldwin at Alanna.Baldwin@umanitoba.ca or 204-799-5674.