The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has dropped slightly, but Manitoba’s hospitalization rates remain high.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has dropped slightly, but Manitoba’s hospitalization rates remain high.

On Wednesday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin described the numbers as “high but stable,” adding there’s no doubt the health-care system is still under “significant strain.”

He said officials will announce more information in the coming days about provincial public health orders that are set to expire Feb. 1, but didn’t offer any details about what Manitobans can expect.

Roussin was asked if he felt the government was listening to the advice of public health officials; he responded that he does.

“Public health works quite closely with government on this, so certainly, we’ve always been at the table providing our advice and have always felt that our advice has been listened to,” the doctor said.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 720 patients with COVID-19 in hospital (including 49 in intensive care) — a decrease of nine COVID-related hospitalizations over the previous 24 hours.

The province also announced three additional COVID-related deaths.

The true scope of COVID-19 transmission in the province is unknown, and Roussin indicated there are no immediate plans to expand PCR test availability.

Only a select group of Manitobans are currently eligible to receive a PCR test, and there’s no ability to publicly report rapid test kit results. The number of PCR tests conducted per day in Manitoba has declined; only about 2,000 are now completed daily.

Roussin suggested that’s down due to demand, that fewer eligible people are showing up for PCR testing. He said Manitoba intends to continue reserving PCR tests for high-risk groups instead of reopening availability to the public.

Meanwhile, children ages five to 11 are “lagging a bit behind” in vaccine uptake and are only just starting to get their second doses, said vaccine taskforce medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer.

“We need to get the numbers higher in this group. We really want to protect all of the children in Manitoba,” Reimer said. Five- to 11-year-olds are eligible for second doses eight weeks after the first dose, or three weeks after if they live in a First Nations community.

Between September and January, in-school immunization clinics administered more than 15,000 doses, Reimer said.

Nearly 60 in-school vaccine clinics and more than a dozen afterschool clinics are scheduled for this week.

Also, as of this week, the COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid is now available in Manitoba, after an initial shipment of 11,000 doses arrived.

The antiviral pill must be taken within five days of symptom onset, and eligibility for the treatment was expanded to include some fully vaccinated Manitobans who received their second shot more than four months ago.

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.