Manitoba public-health officials are considering more restrictions as schools and care homes are being hit by COVID-19 outbreaks and unwell people wait hours to be tested, all under the looming threat of an Omicron-fuelled catastrophe.

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Manitoba public-health officials are considering more restrictions as schools and care homes are being hit by COVID-19 outbreaks and unwell people wait hours to be tested, all under the looming threat of an Omicron-fuelled catastrophe.

The province reported 400 COVID-19 infections in Manitoba on Wednesday as the five-day test-positivity rate rose to 9.9 per cent provincially and 10.6 per cent in Winnipeg.

Deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said in the five days since the province announced new restrictions Friday, his office has been discussing what more needs to be done to protect the health-care system.

"It’s a rapidly evolving situation, so things have changed quite dramatically, really quick," Atwal told reporters during a noon hour briefing Wednesday. "We’re gathering that information to determine those next steps on what public health does recommend in relation to the orders, and what we recommend to government.

"More recommendations are on the horizon," he said.

John Woods / Canadian Press files</p>“More recommendations are on the horizon,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/FILE

John Woods / Canadian Press files

“More recommendations are on the horizon,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said.

It’s estimated that between one-quarter and one-third of newly reported COVID-19 cases are fast-spreading Omicron variant infections, Atwal said. Overall case counts have increased by 60 per cent in the past week with continuing high levels of the Delta variant circulating in the province, he added.

The province currently reports only Omicron-strain cases that have been confirmed through sequencing, which has a lag time of several days. Thus far, 18 cases have been confirmed.

However, Atwal said public health is aware of outbreaks that have been caused by the variant, which is more infectious than the dominant Delta strain, has a case number-doubling time of just two to three days and is more likely to cause an infection in someone who is fully vaccinated.

"We are going to see Omicron, just like in other jurisdictions, become that dominant strain. It’s going to happen relatively soon," Atwal said.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Wednesday confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak among players and front-office staff in the wake of winning the Grey Cup on Dec. 12.

John Woods / Canadian Press files </p>The Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Wednesday confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak among players and front-office staff in the wake of winning the Grey Cup on Dec. 12.

John Woods / Canadian Press files

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Wednesday confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak among players and front-office staff in the wake of winning the Grey Cup on Dec. 12.

Bombers spokesman Darren Cameron declined to say who or how many members of the club have been infected.

He said those who tested positive and the team’s COVID-19 compliance officer have been working with Manitoba public health and "have followed all their guidance."

"We will not be disclosing the personal health status of members of our organization," he said in a statement. "As indicated, we are following the advice of public health."

The team tested negative the day prior to the championship game in Hamilton, required by the Canadian Football League’s protocols. Unlike other league clubs, the Bombers did not have a single positive test during the season.

The team had numerous celebratory parties in both Hamilton and Winnipeg after winning the cup.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES</p>Health officials have declared five more outbreaks, including one at Beacon Hill Lodge personal-care home.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Health officials have declared five more outbreaks, including one at Beacon Hill Lodge personal-care home.

Meanwhile, health officials have declared five more outbreaks, at Beacon Hill Lodge personal-care home and four schools in Winnipeg.

A suspected outbreak tied to a winter formal hosted by the Manitoba Medical Students’ Association at the Fort Garry Hotel last Friday has also grown to include at least 16 cases.

Dr. Ira Ripstein, associate dean of undergraduate medical education at the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba, said none of the approximately 200 attendees have had any sessions on campus since they attended the formal.

"This was a completely student-run, student-organized event. In discussing with the MMSA leadership, they feel in hindsight that, despite following the current public-health guidelines, they should’ve re-evaluated the planned event and pivoted with the recent developments related to Omicron and its transmissibility," Ripstein said in a statement.

One person who was a guest at the event fears others could have been exposed to the virus outside of the ballroom.

“It is clear to myself, and everyone else who is either friends with or in similar social circles as those in medicine, that this is simply an attempt to do damage control.” – Event attendee

"It is clear to myself, and everyone else who is either friends with or in similar social circles as those in medicine, that this is simply an attempt to do damage control," said the event attendee, who didn’t want to be identified.

The guest said hotel management had to interrupt the DJ at least five times to remind people on the dance floor to put on their masks.

Ida Albo, hotel owner and managing partner, said employees were given rapid tests and of 46 people tested none was positive as of Wednesday.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Winnipeggers continued to wait in lengthy queues for a swab as drive-thru testing lines stretched for blocks, snarling traffic on main thoroughfares.

Winnipeg police warned motorists to be patient near the testing sites due to traffic congestion and delays, adding 911 had received numerous calls related to the lines.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p>Vehicles wait in a long line to get into Nairn's drive-in COVID testing site Wednesday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Vehicles wait in a long line to get into Nairn's drive-in COVID testing site Wednesday.

The Free Press reported Tuesday that some people waited more than four hours at the test centre on King Edward Street.

Atwal said the government was aware of the wait time, but insisted testing capacity had not yet been exceeded and work was underway to remedy the situation. More than 3,500 Manitobans were tested for COVID-19 Tuesday.

A new COVID-19 testing strategy, however, is in development and should be released soon, Atwal said. The government had previously warned existing testing capacity could be exhausted by early January.

"We are looking at other avenues in relation to testing to be able to expand that testing and to utilize it in a very effective manner where it makes a difference," he said, adding the plan is to include expanded use of rapid COVID-19 tests and will complement new treatment protocols, such as anti-viral drugs and monoclonal antibodies.

He said many Manitobans are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and are doing the right thing by getting tested.

“We are looking at other avenues in relation to testing to be able to expand that testing and to utilize it in a very effective manner where it makes a difference.” – Dr. Jazz Atwal

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is also circulating in the community, he noted. No cases of influenza have been detected in the past four weeks.

On Wednesday, 137 people were being treated in hospital for COVID-19, including 24 in intensive care.

Atwal implored the public to limit their interactions over the coming weeks as public health continues to assess how the acute-care system will be impacted by Omicron.

"We’re going to see increases right across the board in all the regions…. It’s going to be a challenging holidays here," he said.

— With files from Kevin Rollason

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.