Manitoba keeps size of COVID outbreaks in personal care homes a secret


On a day Heather Stefanson sought to turn the page on Manitoba’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak at a personal care home, a new outbreak of COVID-19 at another personal care home forced the Premier to struggle.

On Wednesday, Stefanson planned to announce $15 million in new provincial funding for personal care homes at River Park Gardens, a seniors’ facility in Winnipeg’s Royalwood neighborhood.

The event has been moved to the Manitoba Legislative Building due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at home.

The province informed the media of the venue change an hour before the scheduled announcement.

The severity of this outbreak is unknown, as the province no longer discloses the number of infected people in nursing homes.

As part of Manitoba’s two-week strategy of releasing statistics such as hospitalizations and case counts on a weekly basis — rather than every day of the week — the province has stopped revealing how many residents of homes personal care are infected with the virus.

Weekly data does not include number of infections

CBC News repeatedly requested the data over three days, but the province refused to release it.

The province instead pointed to the weekly release of COVID-19 epidemiological reports that list the total number of COVID outbreaks, but not the number of people infected during those outbreaks.

That means two outbreaks could mean four sick elderly people. They could also designate 400. There’s no way to tell if personal care homes aren’t publishing the data themselves.

Some, like the Saul & Claribel Simkin Center in Winnipeg’s Linden Ridge neighborhood, proactively disclose this information. He notified families of 16 infections on April 3.

“I think it wouldn’t be a coincidence that we are seeing an increase in our cases with the end of the restrictions that were previously in place,” Simkin’s director of care, Alanna Kull, said in an interview, referring to the end of the mandatory indoor mask mandate and mandatory quarantine for COVID patients on March 15.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said she is comfortable that the families of personal care home residents are the ones who know the extent of the outbreaks. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

“I can’t say that 100 per cent, but obviously we’re making this correlation here, that we’re seeing staff coming in sick, we’re seeing visitors coming in sick and we’re seeing residents who are now getting sick.”

Infected staff and visitors were not symptomatic when they entered the care home and disclosed their illnesses as soon as possible, Kull said. The severity of symptoms among residents is also less severe than it was during an outbreak in January, she added.

But she said it would be best if the province reinstated basic pandemic measures such as the mask mandate.

With no provincial data released, it’s unclear how many personal care home residents are infected in Manitoba.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority listed 267 infections among outbreaks in eight personal care homes on Friday, but those numbers are cumulative and not current, spokeswoman Bobbi-Jo Stanley said.

Even the provincial list of total outbreaks is not up to date. This list is published every Thursday for the week ending the previous Saturday.

It is unclear whether the River Park Gardens outbreak would be counted in this list, as it was only reported after the government planned to hold a press conference at the care home.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew has accused the government of trying to pretend COVID-19 is over.

“The reality of the pandemic keeps kicking in and reminding us that it’s here. And I can’t think of a clearer example for PCs that they had to move their press conference due to a outbreak in a personal care home as proof that the pandemic is not over,” he said.

Families in the know

Premier Heather Stefanson called the new outbreak an “unfortunate situation,” but said the people who should be aware of outbreaks in personal care homes — families of residents — are being told.

“Information gets to those who need it when they need it,” she said.

Stefanson defended the weekly data releases as having the “relevant information” Manitobans need to determine their risk for COVID-19.

She said Manitobans can glean more from a weekly snapshot of COVID data, complete with trends, than from the long-standing practice of posting daily case counts, hospitalizations and outbreak reports.