WINNIPEG -- A group of medical experts is warning the Delta variant of concern could affect Manitoba students' return to classrooms this fall.

On Friday, the group of doctors warned there are only about 80 days until schools reopen in September. They estimate there will be more than 211,000 unvaccinated kids under 12 in Manitoba and thousands more 12 and up who might only have one dose.

The group said the variant, which was first reported in India, is likely to become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

They also said Manitoba’s provincial government did not consider the Delta variant when they made reopening plans.

They said to prevent a fourth wave, vaccine uptake and contact tracing are key among other important measures. The doctors are also calling on the government to create new public health models that take the Delta variant into account.

The group of doctors from a variety of specialties was formed a couple of months ago and held their second press conference Friday morning.

“One of the things I tell my students is that a good clinician is primarily a risk manager,” said Dr. Dan Roberts, an ICU physician at Health Sciences Centre.

“And what we do is assemble the facts and we confirm and we assemble as much expertise as possible to make the best decision to inform our patients and achieve the best outcome.”

Roberts said this is the strategy the group has used throughout the last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic to give advice.

“We are not in the business of hyperbole or spinning facts, we are not here to criticize anybody but we have what we think is an important message at this juncture,” Roberts said.

SHORT-TERM OPTIMISM NOT BASED IN REALITY: ROBERTS

Roberts said everyone is looking forward to getting back to some sense of normalcy this summer.

“We need Manitobans to understand that short-term optimism is not based on current reality,” he said.

“If we want to see out healthcare system begin to recover and our schools to open and remain open in September, we need to understand that a few more months in vigilance and caution are critically important.”

He said if the threat of the Delta variant is ignored there is a real likelihood that we are going to wind up in a fourth wave of COVID in the early fall.

Roberts said Delta is in Manitoba and case numbers have increased tenfold in the last eleven days.

“This mutation is twice as infectious as the Alpha (B.1.1.7) strain and twice as likely to lead to hospitalization and it’s more resistant to a single dose of vaccine.”

According to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard last updated June 18 at 12:30p.m., there are now 130 Delta variant cases (B1.617.2) in the province, 63 of which are in Winnipeg and 40 in the Northern Health Region.

'COVID ISN'T GOING AWAY': ATWAL

Dr. Jazz Atwal, the acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, was asked about these doctors concerns Friday afternoon.

“We know we've gone through a number of waves with COVID Already,” Atwal said. “We're going to continue to see COVID and COVID isn't going away."

Atwal said a fourth and fifth wave of the pandemic possibly exist because COVID-19 is going to be endemic, meaning it is not going to go away.

He said work is underway to work Delta variant into Manitoba’s modelling data and the province does have its eyes on trends as we get closer to the first reopening target slated for July 1st.

The province has planned for a 25 per cent reopening for some businesses, services and facilities as well as increased gathering sizes, only if the province reaches the 70 per cent single dose and 25 per cent second-dose milestones.

The provincial dashboard shows as of Friday 70.6 per cent of Manitobans 12 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, while 22 per cent have received both doses.

Current public health orders are also set to expire June 26th.

HEALTH CRITIC CALLS FOR DOCTORS' CONCERNS TO BE ADDRESSED

Atwal also added most of the Delta variant cases are linked to travel or to household transmission, as well as one cluster of cases.

“We're going to consider the Delta variant,” he said. “We're going to look at not just one or two variables. We're going to look at acute care system capacity, we're going to look at ICU capacity, hospitalizations, we're going to look at case numbers, test positivity.”

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said Friday this group of doctors has consistently highlighted areas that have proven to be inadequately addressed by the government and have subsequently ended up in some of the worse outcomes in North America.

“The requests and the concerns the doctors have put forward today are perfectly reasonable and understandable, these are all areas that should’ve been addressed and should’ve been in a plan long before today,” Asagwara said.

WHAT THE DOCTORS ARE ASKING THE PROVINCE TO DO

The group of doctors is asking public health and the government to:

  • Urgently create and share new public health models that take into account the Delta variant and vaccine efficacy
  • Enhance first- and second-dose vaccination campaigns with expanded hours, on-site workplace vaccination programs, and continued community outreach
  • Enhance the effectiveness of contact tracing and increase contract tracing capacity before reopening schools
  • Implement mandatory paid sick leave
  • Improve classroom safety and ventilation
  • Continue masking and physical distancing requirements
  • Use stay-at-home orders quickly and proactively when needed