A COVID-19 outbreak has spread in Portage la Prairie, impacting churches, the hospital and a facility for people with disabilities.
There were 54 active cases in the south-central Manitoba city, and 34 in the wider Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie, as of Wednesday. These numbers are unprecedented for the city, which has a vaccine uptake rate of nearly 76 per cent, relatively high compared to many southern health districts.
The numbers are around the highest the community has seen in more than a year, Mayor Irvine Ferris said Wednesday.
"It is alarming. We have a relatively high uptake in vaccination in Portage… However, we are a trading area, so we get folks coming here to shop and do business from a lot of areas," he said.
Some of those are from nearby communities with lower uptake rates and more lax views on COVID-19 safety and enforcement, Ferris said.
"In Portage, we have bylaw enforcement from public health. In some communities, that’s not happening. We’re hearing reports from certain communities in Southern Health (region) where there’s not enforcement happening."
Portage (population of roughly 13,000) is a city that follows COVID-19 protocols, Ferris said, noting a vaccine clinic for children under age 12 scheduled this weekend has been booked up since the start of the week.
"The feeling here really is that people here have done their part… and it’s a little bit frustrating that it doesn’t feel like the entire province is pulling together on this," the mayor added.
There have been 20 cases of COVID-19 at the Manitoba Developmental Centre linked to the current outbreak — 13 residents and seven staff — with 13 cases currently active.
Two people have died at the 122-resident care facility for people with intellectual disabilities, including 62-year-old Ronald Starzyk, who died Nov. 26, days after receiving his third vaccine dose.
"There’s nothing really we can do, because they don’t know where it came from, they don’t know who brought it in. They don’t know any of that," Mabel Ramsay, Starzyk’s older sister, told the Free Press.
Ramsay said when she was told by the facility her brother had tested positive for COVID-19, there were 11 or 12 COVID-19 cases at the unit where Starzyk lived.
"At least he went peacefully, because they told me he slept through most of it, they put him on oxygen… He went peacefully," she said.
Starzyk, the youngest of four siblings, was moved into the centre at nine years old and needed 24-7 care, his sister said.
The Manitoba Developmental Centre, which opened in 1890, is scheduled to close over the next three years, as the remaining residents are moved to community living settings.
Ramsay said she doesn’t blame staff at the facility for what happened to her brother.
"We’re just glad he went peacefully, and we left it at that. He’s had a long life, but it’s not an easy life when you’ve got issues."
She was vocal in hopes people who have been holding out think of vulnerable people in their community and get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I’m worried. You worry about the little guys that have no control, the people that have no control over who they’re meeting, any of that stuff… I don’t know what it’s going to take. Another shutdown? I don’t know," Ramsay said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.