Manitoba will require youth to be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 to participate in indoor sports across the province beginning Dec. 5, and cancel some upcoming surgeries to free up hospital space, officials say.
Manitoba is introducing several new pandemic measures aimed at kids in sports, hospital capacity and some unvaccinated churchgoers as the province works to get a handle on rising COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations.
The latest rules mean people age 12 to 17 will have to either be vaccinated or regularly tested starting Dec. 5 to participate in indoor sports, officials said at a Friday news conference.
Meanwhile, a number of upcoming surgeries in Winnipeg will be cancelled to free up intensive care space, while gathering rules will tighten for religious events in Manitoba’s Southern Health region that don’t require proof of vaccination.
“I know it’s frustrating to be here again,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at the news conference.
“I think we’re all disappointed, we’re all frustrated that we’re once again looking at further restrictions, once again looking at [an] upwards trajectory where our health-care system is again strained.”
Minors age 12 and up will have to have proof of either at least one vaccine dose or a negative COVID-19 rapid test from the past 72 hours in order to play indoor sports in just over three weeks.
Rapid tests will need to be done at private participating pharmacies, not Manitoba’s public testing sites, Roussin said.
The new rules for vaccination among youth also apply to overnight camps for kids, he said.
The surgical cancellations will affect some procedures scheduled for Nov. 19 or later, Monika Warren, provincial COVID-19 operations chief at Shared Health, said at the news conference.
That measure comes in response to a “surge” of COVID-19 patients entering Manitoba’s intensive care units, Warren said. The plan will increase Manitoba’s intensive care bed capacity to 110.
The cancellations will affect two slates of procedures at the Pan Am Clinic, two at the Misericordia Health Centre, two at the Victoria Hospital and endoscopies at Seven Oaks General Hospital. People whose procedures are being postponed will get a call, she said.
The new rules will also bring limits to religious gatherings in the Southern Health region that don’t require proof of vaccination starting Saturday.
Those services will be limited to 25 people unless the venue is able to split people up into separate rooms in groups of 25.
If the site is big enough to do that, gatherings will still be limited to 25 per cent capacity up to a maximum of 250 people, Roussin said.
Those new rules won’t apply to religious gatherings in the region that require proof of vaccination to enter.
Southern Manitoba municipalities that are near Winnipeg and have already been exempt from targeted rules in the region won’t be affected by that requirement either, Roussin said. Those communities are the areas of Cartier, Headingley, Macdonald, Ritchot, Niverville, St. François Xavier and Taché.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the province will send unannounced inspectors to churches in the Southern Health region to make sure they’re following the rules.
“Once again, we must ask Manitobans to do more to reduce the current COVID-19 case numbers,” Gordon said.
The Southern Health region has both Manitoba’s lowest vaccination rate and by far the province’s highest test positivity rate.
On Wednesday, when the test positivity rate there stood at 15.6 per cent, according to internal provincial data leaked to CBC News, the rate was 3.4 per cent in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg health region has the highest vaccination rate, at just over 89 per cent, compared to just above 68 per cent in Southern Health, the lowest of Manitoba’s five health regions.
Modelling presented at the news conference suggests that while the potential rise in cases in Manitoba isn’t as dire as what the province saw during the deadly third wave, with no additional measures, there could be upwards of 300 cases a day come December.
But hospitalizations could rise in a similar way to the third wave if no steps are taken, with three new COVID-19 intensive care admissions a day projected for next month.
“That’s not a sustainable number,” Roussin said.
The new measures are about as far as the province can go before it has to start again applying rules to vaccinated people, he said.
“If we continue to see strain on our health-care system, further steps may be required.”
Hospitalizations in Manitoba have already jumped significantly over the last few weeks. The 87 COVID-19 patients in hospital on Oct. 20 shot up to 143 by the middle of this week, a rise of 64 per cent.
Manitoba’s daily caseload has seen a similar rise. As of Friday, the seven-day average for daily cases was 164, up from 85 on Oct. 20.
And cases are increasing rapidly among people under 20, Roussin said.
The province is also seeing a continued spike in test positivity rates; the provincial rate went from 3.1 per cent on Oct. 21 to 6.2 per cent on Nov. 10.