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Most Manitobans likely to be exposed to COVID in the coming weeks, public health officer says

Premier confirms that in-person school will resume for all students on Jan. 17.
premier-heather-stefanson-2021
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

Manitoba’s premier and health officials discussed the current COVID-19 situation in the province at a press conference Jan. 12, saying it was highly likely that most of the province’s residents would be exposed to the virus in the coming weeks and that hospitalization data is showing that many of those who have tested positive for the virus initially came to hospital for other medical reasons.

Characterizing the omicron variant as essentially a different virus than previous strains, with each known case likely to cause 12 to 16 additional infections, compared to three or four with previous variants like deltas, deputy chief public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said the focus is shifting from containing the virus to mitigating the impacts, with most Manitobans likely to come into contacted with someone with the virus in the coming weeks.

“Our ability to contain the virus is limited,” he said, which can cause problems, even though omicron infection are usually milder than those caused by the delta variant. “The sheer number of cases still has the potential to overwhelm our health care system. It can still result in severe disease for some people.”

Omicron is now the dominant strain in all regions, Atwal said.

There are 454 people in Manitoba hospitals with active COVID-19 infections as of Jan, 11, 27 of them in the northern region. Both those numbers climbed since yesterday, as did the number of intensive care patients with COVID-19, which is now at 46. 

“I think we're going to continue to see ICU numbers increase and the hospitalizations will increase as well,” said Atwal, predicting that case numbers will continue rising for at least another week to 14 days.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said data being compiled showed that two-thirds of hospitalized patients with COVID originally came to hospital for other reasons.

Premier Heather Stefanson said in-person learning for all students will resume at Manitoba schools on Jan. 17 and that the key to learning to live with the virus remains vaccination, as people with three doses of COVID-19 vaccine are 139 times less likely to end up in in intensive care than those who are unvaccinated.

“It’s saving lives, there’s no question about that,” she said.

Vaccination task force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer said that over 50 per cent of Manitoba children aged five to 11 have now received their first dose of COVID vaccine but that it is unlikely that a vaccine will be approved for those under five any time soon. She also said people who previously had COVID should not wait until three months after their infection to get vaccinated anymore as having had delta or other strains of the virus does not protect well against catching omicron.

There were 119 active cases of COVID-19 in the Thompson/Mystery lake health district Jan. 11 up about 10 from the previous day. It is one of four northern health districts with more than 100 active cases. The Island Lake health district has the most in the north with 487 active cases.

The five-day test positivity rate in the province Jan. 12 was 47.2 per cent. It was 41.7 per cent in the Northern Regional Health Authority on Jan. 11 and has been climbing steadily in the north since New Year’s Day, when it was at 18.1 per cent.