'Rise in numbers is always concerning': Southern Health Region seeing climbing COVID-19 infection rates
COVID-19 infection rates are climbing in the Southern Health Region at a pace much quicker than the more densely populated Winnipeg Health Region.
Twenty-four of the 60 new COVID-19 cases reported by provincial health officials on Friday, so nearly half, are from the Southern Health Region. Sixteen were counted in the Winnipeg Health Region.
It’s not a one-day blip.
Over the last seven days, the Southern Health Region, which has a population of 211,896 residents according to a 2020 provincial census, saw 157 new COVID-19 cases.
The Winnipeg health region, housing roughly 791,284 people, saw 98 new cases in the same span of time.
When accounting for population, however, there were 10.6 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the Southern Health Region compared to just under two in the Winnipeg Health Region.
In other words, even though the Southern Health Region has roughly a quarter of the population of the Winnipeg Health Region, it’s seeing an infection rate five times higher.
“This was one of the things we were worried about coming into this fourth wave,” said University of Manitoba virologist Jason Kindrachuk.
“We knew that we had lower vaccine uptake rates in the Southern Health Region,” he said, “We knew there was room for the virus to get into those areas and spread very quickly. I think what we’re seeing reflects what we were concerned about in the first place.”
The Southern Health Region has the lowest vaccine uptake rate in Manitoba.
Areas like Stanley and Winkler, both in the health region, currently have vaccination rates of 23.9% and 41%, respectively, the lowest in the province.
Active COVID-19 case rates are also highest in the Southern Health Region.
While Winnipeg has a higher overall active case count (158 active cases) than the Southern Health Region (148 active cases), the numbers look quite different when accounting for population.
Currently the Southern Health Region has 70 active cases per 100,000 residents versus just 20 in the Winnipeg Region.
“That certainly tells us quite a bit,” said Kindrachuk, “It tells us that, yes, the things we are concerned about are taking place right now in regards to accelerated transmission in areas where we have low vaccination rates.”
If this trend continues, Kindrachuk is concerned over the strain current-and-future COVID-19 cases will place on the Manitoba health-care system.
Right now, out of all the districts that make up the Southern Health Region, Steinbach has the most active COVID-19 cases with 29, followed by Hanover with 25.
Steinbach Mayor Earl Funk is concerned with where the trend could lead.
“The rise in numbers is always concerning,” said Funk, “To have restrictions become regional that could happen.”
Funk is hopeful, saying most residents and businesses are following public health orders and vaccinations are rising in the community.
“We are sitting at around 64% vaccinations and it’s climbing, things are looking better,” he said, “I encourage all our residents to get vaccinated.”
Steinbach is still below the province’s vaccine uptake average and Funk said some people are “afraid” of getting vaccinated “because they’re not sure what’s in there.”
Nathan Dyck owns a gym in Steinbach and says he’s heard of other businesses that aren’t following public health orders. He’s worried what that may mean for the community in the months ahead.
“We’re just going to continue with lockdowns,” said Dyck, “with high infection counts and it’s just not going to end for us.”
“For someone who is complying, it’s extremely frustrating.”