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Skewed Manitoba COVID-19 case, testing numbers still worth watching: epidemiologists

Manitoba health officials have warned some recent COVID-19 numbers are likely skewed by backlogs in testing and changes to how testing is being done, but epidemiologists say that doesn’t mean we should be disregarding the data.

Last week, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said record-setting daily case counts were likely an underestimate caused by a backlog in testing which he said was well over 10,000 tests at the time.

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He also said five-day test positivity rates may be skewed by those testing positive using a rapid test rather than getting a more accurate PCR test at provincial testing sites.

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, says while it would obviously be better to have more accurate data, it’s still important to watch our daily case counts.

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Manitoba Nurses Union on COVID-19 cases


Manitoba Nurses Union on COVID-19 cases

Even if they’re an undercount, he says weighing them against hospitalization and ICU rates in other jurisdictions can give us an idea of what to expect locally.

“That is our base, that is our source, that is our base that will produce more severe cases, hospitalizations, ICU beds, and so on,” he said of new daily case numbers.

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From what he’s been seeing with Omicron-related surges in other jurisdictions, Muhajarine says roughly one per cent of our active cases are likely going to require hospitalization.

“When you are looking at the exponential growth of something that can create hospitalizations and deaths, you know, you expect to see large numbers, not small numbers,” he said.

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COVID-19: Unvaccinated continue to drive up Manitoba hospitalization numbers, official says

“That is why you know that we need to be watching for, you know, hospitalizations in other provinces and so on.”

Data released on Manitoba’s online COVID-19 dashboard Monday shows there are currently 15,318 active cases in the province, up from 9,924 reported on Friday.

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Of those, 1,721 new cases were reported Monday and hospitalizations jumped from 192 on Friday to 228 on Monday. There were 32 patients in ICU as a result of COVID-19 Monday, up two from numbers reported Friday.

Meanwhile, Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate also continues to set records, hitting 37.9 per cent as of Monday, according to the province’s website.

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University of Manitoba Virologist Dr. Jason Kindrachuk said even with skewed data, it’s clear Omicron is “essentially everywhere in this province.”

Ultimately, Kindrachuk says there isn’t any heath data provided by government that is not worth watching right now.

Read more:

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“Yes, hospitalization is important, ICU impact is important — we need to keep focusing on those — but we also have to appreciate that other cases are going to have an impact as well,” he said.

“I think we want to keep watching those numbers. Is it necessarily indicative of where we are right now? Maybe not, but it gives us at least some additional data and perspective to know what the situation is.”

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— with files from Marney Blunt

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, visit our coronavirus page.

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