2 years into pandemic, Manitoba suffers 2nd highest COVID-19 death rate in Canada
Gordon Dreilich enjoyed hunting and fishing. He followed the Jets and the Bombers. He played hockey as a youngster, volunteered as a coach and worked as a professional carpenter.
The Winnipegger had liver and kidney disease before contracting COVID-19 in late 2020. He ended up in hospital and spent weeks in intensive care but, according to his sister, he never recovered. never quite recovered.
Long-term effects of Dreilich included panic attacks and the inability to catch his breath. Four months after his release from the hospital, he returned for a liver transplant and did not survive.
He died in June at the age of 63.
“He went straight to the hospital, and that’s it, we never saw him,” his sister, Charlene Fewings, said.
She considers her brother a victim of COVID-19 even though she still does not know if his death is included in Manitoba’s death toll. official death count attributed to disease.
“I’m not ready to see the reports of what happened. It’s still very fresh,” she said.
“It affects everyone differently, and I think that’s the big deal. You don’t know how bad it’s going to be for you. And just one person’s death that could be prevented…it’s too much .”
Two years ago, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Since then, as many as 1,710 Manitobans have died from the disease, according to the official provincial tally.
This includes 667 in 2020 alone. Only cancer and heart disease caused more deaths in Manitoba that year, according to Manitoba Vital Statistics.
The province has reported another 725 COVID deaths in 2021 as well as 318 this year so far.
In purely numerical terms, the death of 1,710 people over two years is comparable to the disappearance of the entire population of Roblin, Manitoba.
In relative terms, the death rate from COVID in this province is even greater.
Combination of factors in a high death rate
Two years into the pandemic, Manitoba continues to have the second highest COVID-19 death rate in Canada: 123 COVID deaths per 100,000 people, according to federal data.
Only Quebec has a higher death rate from the disease, with 164 COVID deaths per 100,000 people during the pandemic.
Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon did not respond to requests for comment on Manitoba’s high COVID-19 death rate.
There’s probably no single reason, says Winnipeg epidemiologist Souradet Shaw.
“Instead, it’s likely that a combination of factors contributed to what we see overall,” he said.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s provincial civil service chief administrator, attributed some of Manitoba’s high COVID-19 death toll to outbreaks that swept through Winnipeg personal care homes during the fall and winter of 2020, when the second wave of the pandemic claimed the lives of hundreds of elderly people.
The relatively poor health of Manitobans before the pandemic also played a role, Roussin said.
“One of the thoughts is definitely the underlying health and the underlying determinants,” he said.
These determinants, more formally known as the social determinants of health, include relatively poor access to health services in rural and remote communities in Manitoba, particularly First Nations.
“The overall health of our population is tied to the health of our racialized communities, and in particular our Indigenous population,” Shaw said.
“Unfortunately, in the case of Indigenous peoples in Manitoba, the legacy of colonialism and systemic racism continues to play out and act to systematically create barriers to health and well-being.”
Other social determinants of health include poor housing, as the more people living in a house, the more difficult it is to prevent transmission of COVID-19 within households.
Another determinant is income, as those in lower-paying jobs – especially in the service and food processing sectors – were less able to work from home when community transmission was high.
Another determinant is ethnicity itself, as newcomers to Canada and Indigenous peoples are more likely to earn less money, live with more people, and have less access to health services.
“COVID-19 has served to amplify existing inequalities,” Shaw said. “Those who are already subject to higher rates of illness and death, period, have only seen their risk of death and illness due to COVID-19.”
Vaccination rates also play a role
Low vaccination rates in parts of the southern Manitoba health region also appear to be driving up Manitoba’s COVID-19 death rate, Shaw said.
During the second wave in 2020, which took place before vaccines for the disease were available, the Winnipeg Health Region was overrepresented among the ranks of the COVID dead. With 56% of Manitoba’s population, Winnipeg accounted for 70% of COVID-19 deaths in the province.
Yet from mid-April 2021, at the start of the third wave, until the end of last year, the Southern health region stood out. With just 15% of the provincial population, it accounted for about 33% of COVID deaths in Manitoba.
“The biggest factor here, I guess, would be the lower proportion of people vaccinated in Southern Health,” Shaw said.
While the third wave hit Manitoba’s intensive care wards harder than any other wave, the Omicron wave earlier this year proved more deadly. More people have died in this province during this latest wave of the pandemic than at any time since the second wave in 2020.
The main explanation is the massive number of infections of the Omicron variant, whose less severe mortality rate is countered by its more contagious nature.
Dr. Tara Moriarty, an infectious disease researcher in Toronto, estimates there may have been 10 times more Omicron infections in Manitoba than official numbers document.
She previously conducted research that suggests Manitoba underreported its COVID-19 deaths in 2020, based on factors that include studies to determine the prevalence of COVID antibodies in the general population.
“It is clear now that there was a fairly high percentage of probable COVID deaths that were missed,” she said, adding that she expects the undercount to continue until in 2021.
For Charlene Fewings, it doesn’t matter that her brother Gordon is included in the official tally. She is already convinced that COVID-19 weakened him to the point that he did not survive.
“It’s a disease we can control, with vaccines and with common sense,” she said. “We shouldn’t lose people to a virus.”