There was one new COVID-19 case to report in Manitoba Monday and so far, there's no evidence of community transmission in the province to force the chief provincial public health officer to ramp up its virus-fighting measures.
The new presumptive positive case of COVID-19 is a man in his 80s who lives in Winnipeg and, like the seven previous cases, was apparently exposed to the virus through recent travel.
"We know the virus is here," Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday morning.
But, until there's evidence of community transmission of the disease or that people are not following social-distancing guidelines, or disregarding requests to self-isolate, Manitoba health officials aren't issuing orders or taking more "coercive" measures, Roussin said at a morning news briefing at the legislature.
For instance, licensed child care facilities will remain open, as will provincial casinos — even though other provinces like B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia have announced casino closures.
"These are things we are continually reviewing," said Roussin. A number of measures have been taken at the city's two casinos to limit close contact, he said, such as suspending table games, he said. No one from Premier Brian Pallister's or Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton's offices responded to a request for comment on why the Crown corporation casinos remain open. That may change and more steps may be taken, Roussin said before Manitoba Health announced late in the day that some surgeries will be postponed.
"The goal is to protect patients who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19," including those over 70 years, with major underlying health conditions and patients who are immunocompromised, a Manitoba Health news release said. Only patients whose surgeon has determined a procedure can be safely delayed for three months or longer without any significant effects on a patient's health will be affected, it said. Patients will be contacted directly to confirm that their surgery is being affected, the release said.
The news came after Shared Health's chief nursing officer said there are no plans right now to close personal care homes to visitors — partly because they are the residents' homes.
"It's about life and being close to the people you love," Lanette Siragusa said, noting families received letters asking them not to enter if they're sick or have travelled abroad in the last 14 days, and signs have been posted at entrances.
Some private care homes have ramped up restrictions to a higher level but public health isn't keen to do that sooner than it has to, she said. "We're pacing ourselves. This is going to be a bit of a journey," said Siragusa.
A team is developing plans for workers at adult day cares, home care, long-term care, and assisted living facilities, she said. "Those recommendations will be communicated soon to workers and the public," she said.
Health officials are working with Doctors Manitoba on "virtual" visits and psychotherapy sessions, said Siragusa, promising more details in the coming days.
Roussin said airport screening is the responsibility of the federal government, not the province. "(Manitoba) Public health is not being notified directly about all returning travellers as there'd be no way to follow up with each returning international traveller."
Any changes to airport screening would be up to the federal government, which has been providing information at airports and advising international travellers to self-isolate for 14 days, and to notify Health Links if they were in the high-risk areas in China, Italy and Iran, said Roussin.
Manitoba Health opened a COVID-19 screening site in Thompson on Monday. It's allowing just one visitor per patient at a time in acute-care facilities, such as hospitals, across the province, except for parents visiting children or those visiting patients nearing the end of life.
Manitoba's adult and youth correctional facilities are still allowing visitors, with restrictions in place to protect the health and safety of those in custody as well as staff.
The pandemic is bringing out the best and the worst in people, the health officials said.
Siragusa said she called the University of Manitoba's dean of health sciences Saturday asking for volunteers from a number of faculties to help with Health Links, community screening and lab results. Within two hours, 140 medical students signed on to help out at access centres and a number of student nurses to pitch in at Health Links on Monday. "It's quite inspiring and amazing from my perspective," Siragusa.
As of Sunday, more than 1,200 Manitobans had been tested for COVID-19 at the four Winnipeg screening sites opened last week at access centres, including 321 on Sunday, Siragusa said. Those are in addition to COVID-19 tests begun two weeks ago for all intensive-care unit and personal care home patients as well as all respiratory samples being tested, said Roussin.
"(Manitoba) Public health is not being notified directly about all returning travellers as there'd be no way to follow up with each returning international traveller." – Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer
Health Links received 1,700 calls from Manitobans Sunday, with wait times averaging one hour and 43 minutes. On Monday, the wait was reduced to an hour and 10 minutes, Siragusa said. She also said an online self-assessment tool is another measure they hope to have up and running soon. Roussin reiterated the need for people to be tested only if they are symptomatic and recently travelled internationally, or if they are symptomatic and have come in contact with confirmed cases.
Two more screening sites could open in Flin Flon and The Pas as early as Tuesday, Siragusa said. They're not intended to be COVID-19 "walk-in clinics," she said. "They're intended for referrals only," from the Health Links phone line.
The pandemic has also brought out the scammers. Roussin said Monday there have been reports of multiple phishing scams related to the coronavirus. The intended victim receives an unsolicited email advising them they may have COVID-19 and asks them to provide a credit card number to receive medication in case they test positive for it.
Roussin said this is not an email or call that Manitobans would receive from public health officials.
Police are advising anyone who receives such an email or text to delete it or hang up on the caller.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Updated on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 at 11:11 AM CDT: Adds date reference to headline.