Northern travel banned as COVID cases mount; making masks mandatory under consideration

As the number of COVID-19 cases mount in southern Manitoba, the province is re-imposing travel restrictions to the North and warning that greater use of masks may be required in the future.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/08/2020 (1008 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As the number of COVID-19 cases mount in southern Manitoba, the province is re-imposing travel restrictions to the North and warning that greater use of masks may be required in the future.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced Monday that the re-implementation of travel restrictions to northern Manitoba — instituted in April and removed in June — would take effect on Thursday. He also asked Manitobans to respect any travel restrictions First Nations have in place.

Public health officials announced 28 new cases of the novel coronavirus in Manitoba on Monday, on top of the 90 reported over the weekend.

Since Aug. 1, Manitoba has recorded 806 of its total 1,214 cases. Winnipeg has seen 179 new cases announced in August alone.

The province has seen a surge in cases in Prairie Mountain Health region, caused primarily by a growing cluster in Brandon and cases linked to Hutterite or communal living situations.

There have been 423 cases in Prairie Mountain Health region since July 1, 250 of which are currently active. So far, there have been 280 cases in communal living communities, with 115 still active.

Despite all the new cases, the province’s five-day test positivity rate fell to 2.1 per cent on Monday after reaching a high of 3.1 per cent last week. A total of 5,414 lab tests were performed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

However, the amount of community spread of the virus continues to be a concern. In the past seven days, there have been 32 such cases, including 16 in Prairie Mountain Health, two in Southern Health and 14 in Winnipeg. Overall rates of community spread in Manitoba had hovered around 12 per cent but have since grown to 15 per cent, with spikes of 20 per cent in Winnipeg and Brandon in the past month or so.

Meanwhile, the number of Manitobans hospitalized by COVID-19 has grown to 11 (with one in intensive care) from five on Friday.

Roussin said that before reimposing more restrictions on Manitobans, the province is likely to turn to increased mask use as a control strategy, in case numbers keep pushing upwards.

"I think if we see case numbers continue to climb, if we start seeing indicators that are telling us we need to have another implementation of some sort of public health intervention, then our next step is likely to be masks," he said Monday without providing specifics.

In Prairie Mountain Health, the only region in Manitoba to be rated in the orange or restricted category, wearing a mask is required in all indoor public places and at all indoor and outdoor public gatherings.

On Tuesday, a previously announced order requiring that all hospital visitors wear masks takes effect.

Northern Manitoba First Nations, who had lobbied for the re-imposition of travel restrictions north of the 53rd parallel, welcomed Roussin’s announcement.

"I want to commend Dr. Roussin for working closely with MKO and Northern First Nations in working to protect our citizens from the COVID-19 virus," Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., said in a prepared statement.

The new public health order, like the previous one, will include many exemptions, Roussin said. Unaffected will be folks who live in northern Manitoba or plan to set up residence there, and people who work for the federal or provincial governments or a Crown corporation or child and family services. Also excluded are health providers, people who are travelling to deliver goods, provide services or operate a business. Those who are travelling directly to lodges or campgrounds or directly to Churchill will also be exempt.

There are currently no active cases in the Northern Health region; the area has seen four cases in total, and all four have recovered.

Of the 28 new cases announced on Monday, 13 are in Prairie Mountain Health, seven are in Winnipeg health region, six are in Southern Health region and two are in Interlake-Eastern health region.

Officials said an employee at a third Brandon personal care home has tested positive for COVID-19. The health worker at Fairview Personal Care Home is a close contact of a previously identified case. Hillcrest Place and Rideau Park care homes in Brandon have also seen staff test positive.

An outbreak at Bethesda Place personal care home in Steinbach has grown to 10 persons, including seven staff. Two of the three residents to have contracted the virus there have died.

Health officials are also warning of a possible exposure to COVID-19 at the Frederickson Performance Centre in Brandon on Aug. 17, from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and Aug. 23, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. While the risk of transmission is considered low, those affected should watch for symptoms, the province said.

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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