Readers Ask: Mask exemptions and COVID-19 hospitalizations

·3 min read

Brandon Sun readers requested specific questions be asked at COVID-19 news conferences with chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Shared Health.

QUESTION: Why has Dr. Roussin neglected to inform the public about the mask exemptions listed in the public health orders? I have severe asthma. I honestly feel scared to enter most stores. I’ve had the RCMP threatened on me. It’s been very difficult and very dehumanizing and my mental health has definitely suffered. I am following the orders to social distance.

ROUSSIN: There are exemptions to the requirements to wear masks, and some of them are medical conditions. The vast majority of Manitobans are able to wear a mask, and the exemptions don’t include being uncomfortable or nuisance. They are very specific exemptions.

But it is absolutely true, there are some Manitobans that are unable to wear a mask. The messaging that we’ve said, early on in the first wave is: be kind. We really are all in this together. And we’ve had episodes of groups being stigmatized, right from the beginning. We know that’s what happens during crises. We look to stigmatize, we can look to be unkind to others. That’s not going to help us with COVID.

QUESTION: (Followed up from unanswered question on Nov. 13.) How many of the hospitalization numbers were actually in the hospital already for something else and acquired the infection while they were hospitalized or in long-term care? Are those individuals now still hospitalized because of COVID, or their original admission? Especially with widespread positive tests, is it not inevitable that more and more hospitalizations will occur for other routine issues, but the individual is currently positive and was managing COVID without care, and still could?

SIRAGUSA: While we continue to work on it within the medicine unit, I can tell you in critical care what I understand is after a certain amount of time a COVID patient is no longer active even though they had COVID. There are actually, I think, around 10 people who are in the ICU who once had COVID but have passed through that journey. … So we’re not counting those ones as COVID positive anymore.

But in medicine, you’re absolutely right. It’s a bit challenging. We are working on it. It is challenging to determine because as we see outbreaks happening within the hospitals, what we are seeing as people who are admitted for non-COVID issues … If there’s any spread on a unit because of an outbreak, they may become COVID positive. That may not be why they’re in the hospital, but they are counted in the hospitalization rates.

So we continue to work on that. It is a priority because it helps us with our planning and decision-making. I haven’t seen a final document on what those numbers are. We will continue to pursue that.

Do you have a question about something in your community? Send your questions to with the subject line: Readers Ask.

Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun