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Province Considering Using Hockey Rinks as Morgues

Photo by Carter Brooks

Province Considering Using Hockey Rinks as Morgues

Despite the strong efforts of many Manitobans to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the case numbers and test positivity rate continue to remain at a pandemic-high within the province.

With Manitoban government and health officials nearing their respective wit’s end in terms of desperate pleas of protocol adherence amid the latest province-wide shutdown, changes may still be forthcoming. Having surpassed 300 total COVID-19 related deaths province-wide this past weekend – with many stemming from outbreaks at personal care facilities – the province’s top newspaper saw its obituary section seep into overflow.

Over 9,000 active cases remain in the province, with nearly 6,700 being in Winnipeg. 336 people are currently in hospital due to the virus, with 44 situated in intensive care. Test positivity rate remains above 13 percent throughout Manitoba. With overcrowding remaining an issue, the province’s Alternative Isolation Accommodation has added 138 new spaces for Manitoba’s homeless community.

“We know the shelter population is particularly vulnerable to the contracting and spread of COVID-19,” WRHA’s Sharon Kuropatwa said. “These isolation spaces provide individuals with a safe space to isolate while they await test results or to recover if they have tested positive, with enhanced access to clinical and social supports if they need them.”

Those living with high-risk members of society or those unable to find adequate shelter will be able to be added to the new unit comprised of 138 beds. Manitoba’s Alternative Isolation Accommodation is now up to 14 locations province-wide, and hopes to add new placements in Brandon in the coming month.

“A surge in cases within our homeless shelters is putting a strain on the number of beds in the system, as well as on staff needed to support this critical work,” Manitoba’s Families Minister Heather Stefanson said Saturday. “Our government is committed to protecting Manitobans from the pandemic. We are taking action to address these challenges by investing in new spaces for vulnerable people who have COVID-19 or need to self-isolate, responding to an increasing demand among our homeless population.”

Overcrowding is one issue (either within personal care facilities, AIA locations or hospitals) but dealing with death and the aftermath of a deadly pandemic is another. With mortality rates climbing throughout Manitoba, the province is looking at safe storage facilities for those who have recently passed away due to COVID-19.

Already running out of space, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister recently hinted at the possibility of hospitals shifting some of their COVID patients to community clubs and hockey arenas. Other health officials have hinted at ice rinks serving as morgues for the short-term, as Manitoba attempts to catch up with high levels of death currently being experienced.

Since mid-March, various versions of ‘hockey rink morgues’ have been popping up in the news all over the world, from Madrid to Maryland, and everything in between. One particular shuttered public venue, The Garden Ice House in West Laurel, is a facility equipped with five rinks, one being NHL-sized and another being Olympic-sized. With no minor, university or recreational hockey being played, the building has now been operating as morgue for a number of months.

Now exactly one month into the mandate put in place against team sports, such as hockey, the province is hoping to turn those once-thriving facilities into something more useful for the immediate relief of hospital staff. Most rinks within Winnipeg removed their ice and shut down their refrigeration systems in early-November, in an attempt to alleviate costs. Although many are still hopeful that recreational sports do return in the near future, the end of this pandemic is nowhere near in sight.

“If we continue on the current pace, our longer range models continue to forecast significant increases in daily case counts and estimate that there could be up to 10,000 cases reported daily by mid-December,” Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Tam said Sunday. “Right now, we have a window of opportunity to act collectively together with public health authorities to bring the infection rate down to a safer trajectory.”

Currently, Canada stands at nearly 6,000 new cases daily, while seeing roughly 80 deaths a day and 2,200 people situated in hospitals due to the virus. Quebec and Alberta set COVID-19 daily case count records on Saturday, while Ontario and BC did so on Friday. Saskatchewan has since joined Manitoba in banning all recreational team sports, with reference to many documented cases of COVID-19 and transmission within hockey teams.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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