Two Winnipeg doctors say the Manitoba government needs to act more urgently to tackle COVID-19-intensive admissions and tackle its growing backlog of surgeries.
Dr. Dan Roberts, an ICU physician at the city’s Health Sciences Center, said it means pushing vaccines harder, increasing enforcement of existing public health measures and bringing tougher restrictions to parts of the province where immunization rates are low.
It includes communities in the southern health region where vaccine uptake is approx 20 percent lower than the provincial rate. No new pandemic rules have been introduced for the area since mid-November, when capacity limits were added for religious gatherings that do not require proof of vaccination.
“The government can not continue to downplay the impact of these low-vaccination communities,” Roberts said.
“We can not just keep hiding what’s going on and hope people just do not notice it.”
Unvaccinated Manitoba lanes with COVID-19 have continued to be significant contributors to the increasing pressure on the province’s hospitals.
As of Friday, more than 60 percent of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized were not fully immunized. For those in intensive care, the figure was 88 per cent.
The backlog is growing
Rising hospital numbers, in turn, have caused a huge backlog of surgical and diagnostic procedures, with more than 130,000 procedures canceled to free up beds and resources to handle the sickest patients.
People who “refuse to be vaccinated have massive effects,” said Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, an intensive care specialist and cardiac anesthesiologist in Winnipeg.
“And until we can solve that problem, we will be in trouble in the coming months.”
Jacobsohn said the province’s plan to address its backlog should be transparent, beginning with announcing the details of a previously announced task force – an update that has been delayed several times.
“I think it’s a disgrace that the task force is [only coming] now at the end of 2021, where we are in this incredible mess in terms of surgical and diagnostic procedures, “he said.
“It’s fascinating that we’re so far inside, we’re so far behind [and] that we are now gathering a group of experts just before Christmas. “
Roberts said the approach of deferring as many resources as possible made sense early in the pandemic. But that plan does not seem to have considered how far-reaching the effects of a massive surgical and diagnostic lag would be.
“These were all unintended consequences at the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.
“But now we know about them, we have to think about them because they can no longer be considered unintentional. So what do we do about this?”
Details next Wednesday: Minister
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the province will announce more details about this task force on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Manitoba Health said Sunday that the province has signed contracts with several organizations to perform over 11,000 procedures that are part of the backlog.
Roberts said the province needs to use what it has learned about the pandemic to make its decisions going forward – and he hopes to put pressure on the government to act.
“The policy calculation here has been: ‘Let’s just build ICU capacity and maintain it and hope for the best.’ It’s not a strategy,” he said.
“We’re losing staff, we’re losing nurses, people’s getting exhausted, they’re quitting. And we can not just keep doing this and hope for the best. Hope is not a strategy that is likely to get us out of this.”
And Jacobsohn said a thorough look should be taken at what exactly went wrong through a provincial investigation once the pandemic is over.
“I think it’s fair to ask, in a province where 1,300 people have died from COVID, where an unknown number of people have had their cancer progress, where people on other surgical waiting lists have gotten into trouble, where the quality of life has deteriorated … was this unpredictable? ” said Jaconsohn.
“Just saying that people have paid with their lives, have paid with their health, paid with their mental health … is frankly unacceptable.”