Winnipeg water supply safe

We answer readers' questions, including whether masks should be worn


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Editor’s Note: Longtime readers of the Free Press might remember a regular feature called Answers, where, in a time before Google, we answered readers’ questions. Since even Google does not have all the answers regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, reporter Kevin Rollason will attempt to answer your coronavirus queries. Send your questions to

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/04/2020 (1034 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editor’s Note: Longtime readers of the Free Press might remember a regular feature called Answers, where, in a time before Google, we answered readers’ questions. Since even Google does not have all the answers regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, reporter Kevin Rollason will attempt to answer your coronavirus queries. Send your questions to

QUESTION — I’ve noticed in recent days that other residents in our condo complex are buying numerous bottles of water and I’ve seen a rumour on the Internet that our water supply could be in jeopardy. Is there any way COVID-19 could stop water from running through our taps?

ANSWER — The short answer is no.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A sign in Assiniboine Park reminds people to keep their distance from each other, which also means refraining from playing sports such as street hockey or flag football until the crisis passes.

The long answer comes from civic spokesman David Driedger, who says Winnipeggers have nothing to fear about their water supply. He says the city’s emergency operations department has coordinated with all civic departments to make sure the needed policies and procedures are in place to ensure essential services continue while maintaining critical infrastructure.

“Winnipeg’s water quality and water supply is not at risk due to COVID-19,” Driedger says.

Having said that, Driedger says Winnipeggers should always be prepared for natural disasters and ensure they have a 72-hour emergency kit on hand.


Q — Because many people are forced to work from home, resulting in more electricity being used, is it possible for Manitoba Hydro to reduce its rates?

A — Manitoba Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen says while that may have happened elsewhere, it won’t happen in our province.

“Manitoba has among the lowest electricity rates in Canada,” Owen says. “Other jurisdictions that have offered rate relief have higher electric rates than Manitoba or rate structures that vary depending on the time of day… much higher rates are charged for electricity use at peak times.”

Owen said because the Crown corporation knows COVID-19 is causing “financial challenges for many households and businesses in Manitoba, and some may have difficulty paying their bill during this time of uncertainty,” they will not disconnect services because of overdue accounts.

The province announced Friday it has directed Manitoba Hydro and Centra Gas not to charge interest or impose penalties on any Manitoban who is unable to pay their bill at this time.

Owen said the utility is encouraging customers who face financial distress to contact them to set up a payment plan either by going online, through MyBill, by emailing, or by phoning 204-480-5900 or 1-888-624-9376.


Q — I consider myself to have good sewing skills and I’ve been reading there are shortages of face masks for health workers. I’ve got a sewing machine, lots of fabric remnants, and plenty of time on my hands. Could I sew face masks to help protect health care workers?

A — It’s wonderful you want to help, but Health Canada has been warning both the public and health-care providers that homemade masks may not offer the same type of protection as masks that have been tested and authorized by them. You can learn more here.

As for you wearing a mask you have made yourself, Manitoba public health officials are saying that for healthy people, it’s unclear whether there would be significant benefit from wearing a mask to prevent you from contracting the virus. They continue to say handwashing with soap is still the best shield against contracting a viral respiratory illness.

But, where a mask does come in handy is helping stop the spread of germs and viruses from someone who is already sick, which is why they are given a mask when they go to a health facility and they are coughing and sneezing.


Q — My husband and I have self-isolated at home for two weeks and so has my daughter’s family. We really want to see our grandchildren again. If all of us are symptom-free, can we visit each other?

A — No. Manitoba health officials continue to recommend Manitobans stay home, except to shop for essential items such as groceries or medication. They say everyone has to do their part to reduce the risk of exposure to others.

For grandparents, it is even more important because the high-risk groups include people with underlying chronic health conditions, those with weakened immune systems, and people aged 60 or older. This is your chance to connect using electronic devices or just pick up the phone for the time being.


Q — My wife and I are seniors and, although we’re healthy, we’re in the high-risk group because of our age. We have been social distancing ourselves by staying home, but we are wondering how many times a day should we wash our hands if we only see each other and we have no symptoms?

A — Manitoba Health officials say there is no magic number for the number of times a day to wash your hands, but even people who stay away from everyone should do so. Why? You’re probably still taking in mail from your mailbox and either going out to get groceries or having them delivered. So you need to wash your hands once you’ve touched what could be a contaminated surface.

While there’s no specific direction for the number of times to wash your hands, the officials do have a number for how long you should wash them — at least 20 seconds.

You should also wash them if you’ve just coughed or sneezed, are looking after someone who is sick, and before, during and after making a meal.

Just like your mom said long ago, wash them before eating and after using the toilet.

Don’t forget to use soap and warm water and completely dry your hands, or you could also use an alcohol-based hand cleanser if you don’t have dirt on your hands.


Q — Everyone keeps talking about social distancing, but what does that really mean? Once the snow melts can my kid go outside to play a game of street hockey? Or go tobogganing with 10 others at a nearby hill? Can I have a small dinner party?

A — Unfortunately, for now, all of these things should be put on the back burner. Manitoba public health officials recommend everyone just stay at home and only go out to the store for essential items.

It means postponing visits with family and friends, not participating in sports and other events, and connecting electronically with people or give them a call on the telephone.

It’s all being recommended to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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