Provincial health officials did their best to assure Manitobans that resources and answers to their questions are available during a Wednesday evening telephone town hall, but made sure to stress the seriousness of the current situation.
"Manitoba’s daily cases are at a level we are unable to sustain right now," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin warned.
The doctor said current daily case counts are putting a lot of stress on Manitoba’s hospitals and intensive care units right now. However, he said the fact that case counts have not continued to soar much past the 400-case mark is a good sign.
The town hall was one of several the province has held during the pandemic, allowing the government to take the temperature when it comes to its COVID-19 response and providing Manitobans with the ability to ask questions directly of the health officials managing the response.
To get those case counts down and to allow for the lessening of restrictions, Roussin again repeated his call for people in the province to stay home as much as possible and limit socialization.
Beyond the immediate health effects that COVID causes, mental health is a large concern during the pandemic, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Piotrowski.
She said that it’s normal for people to feel like they are unable to turn their brain off or have trouble sleeping during conditions like this. Later in the call, she advised people to keep to their routines and to do some planning for what they’d like to do after the pandemic is over to help manage their mental health.
Helping neighbours who need assistance with something like snow shovelling, even at a distance, can help create connections and also provide a mental health boost.
One Manitoban named Doug asked about the rule limiting socialization to people within your house given that his son lives with him but isn’t home much. He wanted to know if he could have another son visit or have his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor drop by.
Roussin said he regrets how prescriptive some of the rules have gotten and that in Doug’s case, he believed those visits would be acceptable.
Visits between parents and children are allowed under current rules as well as an exemption for health-care and health-adjacent services, like a visit from a sponsor.
Another Manitoban, Debbie, wanted to know if her family’s arrangement follows the rules. She and her husband live together and periodically provide child care for their grandchild. Periodically, her child and child-in-law come to visit to help with Debbie’s anxiety problem.
Dr. Jas Atwal, a medical officer of health in Manitoba, said that their family is allowed to both provide child care and anxiety support under the current rules without issue.
Also on the subject of mental health, Liz asked if the doctors on the line are worried about any increases in suicide rates during the pandemic.
Atwal said that COVID-19 deaths in the province are weighing on health-care workers as well as the families losing loved ones. He said there’s recognition from health officials that restrictions can be damaging to mental health, and that’s why the goal is always to put in as few restrictions as possible.
He recommended that people encountering mental health issues look up resources online from Shared Health, speak to a doctor about their concerns, get exercise when possible and to try to continue remote socialization with friends and family members over the phone and the internet.
One caller wanted to know how Manitobans could support front-line workers through the pandemic, speaking of the hard work the staff at the home for people living with disabilities where her son lives.
According to Roussin, health officials are trying to expand supports for front-line workers in recognition of the tough time they’ve been having.
A mother with three children at two different schools wanted to know why the World Health Organization warns that children can be asymptomatic spreaders of the virus while Roussin has said he’s not very concerned about viral transmission in schools.
He said they’ve seen much less transmission in school cohorts than in the general public and that many of his colleagues across the country have noticed the same.
"There’s never going to be zero risk," Roussin said. "There are a lot of benefits to having kids at schools."
If he starts to believe that kids are in danger at schools, then he would intervene.
Asked about what public health’s models project for short- and long-term daily cases, Roussin didn’t divulge much information, but said that initial projections had estimated approximately 800 new cases a day by Nov. 22, which didn’t end up happening.
As it has with previous telephone town halls, the province said it would provide a recording of the event online for those who weren’t able to listen in live.
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