Manitoba’s deputy chief public health officer is imploring people to choose their contacts and activities carefully, even as the province considers rolling back restrictions despite COVID-19 and its more contagious variants continuing to spread.
"We still have low case numbers. We want to maintain these low case numbers as well. It’s going to be incumbent upon all Manitobans to be honest with themselves about what they’re doing and how we generate risk," Dr. Jazz Atwal said Friday. "Just because you’re able to do something, we need to think about should we do it, because every single thing we do generates some risk."
On Friday, Manitoba recorded 93 more cases of COVID-19 and one death due to the disease: a man in his 30s from the Northern health region.
New cases were reported in all health regions, including 39 in Winnipeg and 29 in the north. Fourteen were detected in Prairie Mountain Health, 10 in Southern Health and one in Interlake-Eastern.
Atwal said as of Friday, the National Microbiology Lab had not confirmed any additional cases of coronavirus variants — such as the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 mutations — which are more contagious than the dominant virus circulating in Manitoba.
So far, 76 infections have been caused by a variant of concern.
When asked Friday, the doctor did not share the number of clusters that have been caused by a variant of concern, nor did he say in which settings clusters have emerged.
As of Friday, one outbreak at a personal care home had been caused by a variant of concern. Heritage Lodge Long Term Care Home in Winnipeg had two confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant (first detected in the U.K.) involving one staff member and one resident. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said the total case count for the home stood at two as of Friday.
Meanwhile, during a separate simultaneous news conference held by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Dr. Marcia Anderson, speaking on behalf of the First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team, said that one case on a reserve was caused by the B.1.1.7 variant.
Anderson refused to say which community reported the case, whether it went into lockdown, or which tribal council was involved.
"The individual had travelled out of their community, but not out of province or internationally," she said. "The individual has recovered; we haven't seen any further spread of the variant of concern in the community."
Three schools — two in Winnipeg and one in Winkler — also reported cases caused by a highly contagious variant of concern, Atwal said. No outbreaks had been declared.
"We’ve had clusters of some variants of concern," Atwal said. "We’re gathering more information in relation to whether it’s truly an ‘outbreak’... or is it just a handful of cases in one or two households.
"So we’re going to get some better data surrounding that," Atwal said. "We’ve dealt with, let’s say, certain communities, school communities, we deal with individuals as well, very specifically."
"If there is something that the public needs to know about, we are very open to provide that information," he said.
In general, the province defines a COVID-19 outbreak as two or more confirmed cases linked to a specific setting and/or location. However, outbreaks in schools and health-care settings use different definitions.
On Friday, 136 people were in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 21 in intensive care. The province said 93 people were in ICU, about 128 per cent over pre-pandemic capacity. The five-day test positivity rate was 4.7 per cent provincially and 3.5 per cent in Winnipeg.
Atwal urged Manitobans to stick to the public health rules as they plan for spring break, Easter and Passover and to avoid travel, especially as the province considers rolling back more restrictions after March 26.
"We need to be careful as there continues to be a risk of COVID-19 and of the variants of concern," Atwal said. "At the end of the day I am asking Manitobans to make good decisions and to follow public health orders."
He also warned restaurateurs, who use loopholes in the public health order to seat multiple households in their dining room, that they could be fined for breaking gathering size restrictions.
The First Nations COVID-19 pandemic response team, in cooperation with the province, is also strongly urging anyone visiting a First Nations reserve, or returning home to one, to get a COVID-19 test at a maximum of 72 hours ahead of their arrival.
Anderson said the tests can add a layer of protection to prevent the introduction of variants into First Nations communities.
"But even if someone tests negative, they still need to follow all public health measures, because it's not a guarantee that you will stay negative," Anderson said. "It doesn't mean there's no risk; it's a way to try to lower risk, overall in our communities."
The asymptomatic tests are free and do not require an appointment, and can be taken at Thunderbird House, the Garrick Centre or the testing site at 125 King Edward St., as well as at test sites in Thompson and The Pas.
Outbreaks have been declared over at Concordia Place Personal Care Home and at the Rady Jewish Community Centre’s Early Learning Centre in Winnipeg.
— with files from Dylan Robertson
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.