The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the workload at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre (HSC), where staff report a difficult and anxiety-filled transition into the unknown. And yet, 10 months after being thrust into the largest health crisis in a generation, those health-care workers have found an uneasy rhythm amongst the difficult, stressful situations most of the rest of the province doesn’t see.

“The work that’s been involved, by everybody involved, has been staggering,” says John Embil, medical director of infection prevention and control at HSC, who adds it’s an ever-evolving situation. “This could become a patient treatment area if you needed,” he says, gesturing around the room. “Tanks of oxygen, you take out the desks, put in some beds, you bring in some nurses, you’ve got a patient treatment area. Somewhat unconventional, but it can be done.”

And indeed it has been done many times, as the city’s test-positivity rate remains around 13 – 14 per cent, and well over 100 new cases are added in Winnipeg alone each day.

“We can find empty space anywhere, but it’s how do you operationalize it?” says Jennifer Cumpsty, acting chief nursing officer at HSC. “Staff are working overtime, they are stretched beyond right now. And as the need comes for beds, the patients aren’t going away, and we just keep getting thinner and thinner as our footprint expands.”

One of those areas, GD2, was formerly an orthopedic unit, but now it’s a red zone COVID unit.

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