Two more people have died and Manitoba has 374 new cases of COVID-19, reversing what had been a steady decline in the daily number of new cases, health officials announced Wednesday. 

This is the second-highest single-day jump in new cases since the start of the pandemic, after a high of 480 new cases reported last Friday.

There are now 140 patients with COVID-19 in hospital — up 10 from the day before, and continuing a two-week-long climb in the number of hospitalizations in Manitoba. There are 21 patients in intensive care units, another new record.

One of the people who died, a woman in her 80s, is linked to the outbreak at the Maples Long Term Care Home in Winnipeg. 

The other, a woman in her 90s, is linked to the outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital. There have been seven COVID-19 deaths at St. Boniface, five of which the hospital says can be attributed to the outbreak there.

Manitoba’s five-day test-positivity rate — a rolling average of the number of COVID-19 tests that come back positive — is 8.5, the lowest it’s been since last Thursday.

The new cases bring the province’s total since the start of the pandemic to 6,751. Provincial data shows 3,772 cases still active and 2,892 people recovered, although the number of active cases is likely inflated due to a backlog in clearing recovered cases.

A new outbreak has been declared at another Winnipeg personal care home, this time at Actionmarguerite in St. Boniface. Outbreak protocols were previously put in place at the care home when cases were identified there in September.

An outbreak has also been declared at Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask site, which the province announced Tuesday was being moved to the red, or critical, level on the province’s pandemic scale.

The provincial government announced two new COVID-19 testing sites will open this week. A site in Winkler will open Thursday at 485 George Ave., and a new Winnipeg drive-thru site will open Sunday at the University of Manitoba’s SmartPark at 1 Research Rd.

A total of 3,163 COVID-19 tests were completed on Tuesday.

More to come

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Manitoba health officials will give a COVID-19 update Wednesday, after days of steadily declining case counts, but death counts and hospitalization numbers that remain high.

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa will give an update on the pandemic at 12:30 p.m. CT. 

CBC News will live stream the media briefing here.

Although daily new case counts have been dropping — from a high of 480 reported on Friday to 103 on Tuesday — record hospitalizations continue to strain the province’s health-care system.

On Tuesday, St. Boniface Hospital reported another death linked to a COVID-19 outbreak in three of its units. There have now been seven COVID-19 deaths at St. Boniface Hospital, five of which the hospital says can be attributed to the outbreak there. 

So far, 25 patients and 15 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in connection with that outbreak.

One other death involved a patient who had been transferred from Victoria General Hospital, which is also seeing an outbreak.

One more patient at Victoria tested positive for the illness, for a total of 41 as of Tuesday. There have also been 37 staff infections and one death related to the Victoria outbreak.

The province has declared outbreaks in 21 personal care homes, including three announced on Tuesday. So far, these outbreaks have led to 38 deaths and 373 infections.

The province announced five more COVID-related deaths on Tuesday, tied for the second-highest count in a single day.

Rising cases strain health system

Provincial leaders have been scrambling to contain the swelling case numbers to avoid overloading Manitoba’s health care system. 

Hospitals have been forced to cancel some non-urgent and elective procedures and add critical care beds, to make space for an expected surge of COVID-19 patients over the coming weeks. 

Hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 have set new records every day since Oct. 19, when there were 28 people in hospital, and rising precipitously to 130 on Tuesday. 

Intensive care unit capacity has been pushed to the brink. On Tuesday, there were 20 COVID-19 patients in ICUs in Manitoba, tied for the record high originally set on Saturday.

A group of 200 Manitoba doctors and scientists wrote a letter to the premier on Monday, saying the health system is overwhelmed and calling on the province to provide emergency funding to deal with the spike in cases.

That led to Health Minister Cameron Friesen questioning the motives of the doctors who wrote the letter, saying its timing “would have maximum effect in causing chaos in the system.”

On Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister issued a call for Manitobans to volunteer to work in COVID-19 testing sites and health care facilities, leading to accusations he was using volunteers to avoid hiring more staff.

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