Manitoba's current public health orders will be in effect for another week - but there are signs that Manitoba is making headway in the fight against COVID-19.
The newest round of health orders and restrictions, announced by the provincial government Dec. 28, will now stay in effect until Feb. 8.
"As we continue to navigate Manitoba's response to the pandemic, we still have a lot of important work to do in the coming weeks," said Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
"We are nearing a critical juncture again. Based on several data points, it appears that omicron wave may have peaked or is in the process of peaking or plateauing in Manitoba."
Roussin and other officials showed a sense of cautious optimism that the omicron wave may be about to crest, with lower levels of people in hospital or requiring COVID-19 care possibly meaning health order changes as early as next week. The officials stayed cautious, saying that another week would be required to assess.
"We're seeing early signs of stabilization and positive indicators that COVID-19 is stabilizing in our province. Rate of hospitalization appears to be plateauing, however, rate of ICU occupancy does not appear that way at this time," said provincial health minister Audrey Gordon.
"We're seeing some indicators of that plateau, but we need look further at this data, have some more time to see these trends so we can make better informed decisions about these health orders. A week may not seem like a lot of time, but at the juncture we're in, it's going to provide us with significantly more information," said Roussin.
However, while the number of new people reporting to hospital with COVID-19 may be stabilizing, more people are still coming into Manitoba intensive care units with the disease.
"We continue to see high numbers of COVID-positive patients in hospital due to significant transmission of the virus in their communities. There were 714 COVID-positive patients in hospital today, which is up three from yesterday. The good news is that these numbers have started to flatten out this week, which is a welcome development - however, we continue to see high rates of new admissions to ICU for COVID-positive patients, including nine yesterday and 39 in the last week," said Dr. David Matear, provincial health incident command team co-lead.
Throughout the province, the number of new hospital admissions, new intensive care admissions and deaths has decreased over the past week. Provincial modelling shows these key indicators may soon plateau and are likely to go down over time.
"There is still a significant spread of omicron in our communities - certainly, the health care system is feeling those effects, although there are some indicators to suggest that may be stabilizing," said Roussin.
In a set of slides shown by the chief provincial public health officer, health data shows a sweeping increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths in the past month, but numbers for those indicators are likely to drop in the coming weeks, with a peak anticipated at some point in the next week.
"Manitoba may be approaching a flattened or soon decreasing stage in the curve... Hospital admissions are expected to stabilize in the coming days. Peak occupancy will likely occur later," read the slides.
With case rates no longer considered the best indicator of omicron's impact - due in large part to the province's failings at large-scale PCR testing availability during this wave - health officials have had to go to other metrics to track COVID-19 transmission, including testing sewage and wastewater, which has predicted possible spikes and drops in other locales. In Manitoba, wastewater testing shows that COVID-19 remains high, but is not increasing.
"Wastewater testing shows that we still have relatively high, but stable, viral transmission in the communities. Test positivity rates - we've discussed some of the limitations, especially with our testing strategy now, those are remaining high, around 30 per cent. As we've discussed earlier, many of these indicators are starting to point in the right direction for Manitoba," said Roussin.
As of Dec. 28, the province has limited indoor gatherings that include at least one unvaccinated person over age 12 to either 25 people or 25 per cent normal capacity - whichever is smaller - with fully immunized groups able to gather up to 250 people or 50 per cent capacity - once again, whichever is smaller.
This means crowds for activities like shows and sporting events have essentially been capped at 250 people per show until health orders are changed.
Outdoor gatherings with at least one unvaccinated person over age 12 have been capped at 50 people maximum, with fully immunized groups now at 50 per cent or 250 people - once again, whichever is less.
Changes to gatherings on private property haven’t changed. The most recent rules for indoor private gatherings are 10 people plus household members if all attendees are vaccinated and five people plus household members if anyone is unvaccinated over age 12, with outdoor gatherings capped at either 20 people plus household if all are vaccinated and 10 people plus household if at least person over age 12 is unvaccinated.
Restaurants are now capped at 50 per cent capacity or 250 people maximum and liquor cannot be sold in licensed premises after 10 p.m. Proof of vaccination is still required for in-person service for people 12 and up and tables are still capped at 10 people each.
Gyms and fitness centres, casinos and bingo halls, museums and galleries, movie theatres, concert halls, weddings and funerals are all capped in similar ways - once again, either half capacity or 250 people maximum, whichever is smaller. Proof of vaccination is also required at all of these venues.
Indoor religious and cultural gatherings are also capped at 250 people or 50 per cent, but only for congregations where everybody over 12 is fully vaccinated. For groups that aren’t, limits drop to 25 people or 25 per cent capacity, with separation in cohorts allowed to boost congregations up to as many as 250 people.
Personal services are still able to stay open at full capacity, but with distancing in place, while rules regarding indoor sports, including capacity limits, proof of vaccination, testing and cancelled tournaments are still in place.