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Brandon cluster drives active case total

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With 40 active cases, Brandon is now the largest COVID-19 hotspot Manitoba has experienced thus far in the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"This is likely the biggest one we've had," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday at the second impromptu news conference called this week to address a spike in COVID-19 cases.

On Thursday, he reported 30 new cases — the largest increase since April 2. On Friday, there were 17 more.

Chart showing active cases of COVID-19 by health region

In the Brandon cluster, 10 of those who've tested positive work at the local Maple Leaf Foods Inc. meat processing plant, company president and chief executive officer Michael McCain said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Shifting line on COVID-19 statistics

Click to Expand

Posted: 07/08/2020 7:00 PM

Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe provided residents of his province with the kind of detailed coronavirus pandemic information rarely seen in neighbouring Manitoba.

Concerned by the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan Hutterite colonies, Moe served up some cold facts July 29: of the 322 active cases in the province that day, 244 were from colonies. In an update the following day, Saskatchewan officials backed away from specifically mentioning Hutterite colonies, instead citing infection totals for "multiple communal living settings."

Read Full Story

The employees caught the virus in the community, not on the job, Roussin said earlier, when just eight Maple Leaf workers were known to have tested in positive. "There's no evidence of workplace transmission at this time."

Of the 17 new cases in the province, five are in Winnipeg, 10 in the Prairie Mountain Health region (which includes Brandon), and two in Southern Health. There are now 132 active cases, with nine people in hospital and three in intensive care. The province's five-day test positivity rate is 1.1 per cent.

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Some of the Brandon cluster are "connected to a business," said Roussin, refusing to identify Maple Leaf by name, saying there's no health benefit in sharing the location with the public. "There's not a single case acquired there, from our investigation."

Roussin said the site was inspected by provincial and federal agencies Thursday, and no remedial orders were issued. He said there had been a recent "deep clean" of the facility, any workers who unknowingly had the virus would've worn personal protective equipment at work during the infectious period, and workers have been cohorted to reduce the risk.

Going public?

Manitoba provincial health officials issue an advisory about possible exposure at a Walmart in Winnipeg. A Brandon Walmart employee later tests positive and the province doesn't say boo.

A Tim Hortons restaurant in Brandon closes when a worker tests positive, and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin mentions it a media briefing. He says nothing about a daycare in St. François Xavier that closes temporarily after a child tests positive.

A Maple Leaf Foods Inc. pork processing plant in Brandon that employs 2,300 people has 10 workers test positive for COVID-19, but is not publicly identified by health authorities.

What gives?

Manitoba provincial health officials issue an advisory about possible exposure at a Walmart in Winnipeg. A Brandon Walmart employee later tests positive and the province doesn't say boo.

A Tim Hortons restaurant in Brandon closes when a worker tests positive, and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin mentions it a media briefing. He says nothing about a daycare in St. François Xavier that closes temporarily after a child tests positive.

A Maple Leaf Foods Inc. pork processing plant in Brandon that employs 2,300 people has 10 workers test positive for COVID-19, but is not publicly identified by health authorities.

What gives?

Roussin says he won't make public health information unless it benefits the public. If officials can identify an infected person's contacts, there is no need to notify the public.

In Winnipeg, public health couldn't identify those who came and went from the Walmart store earlier in the pandemic, so the public was notified. That wasn't the case recently at the Walmart in Brandon, Roussin said Friday.

"Public health will make announcements based on our investigation, and our investigation is there was no risk to the public there," he said.

On Friday, Tim Hortons said its Brandon restaurant just off the Trans-Canada Highway was closed after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Those who worked closely with the infected employee are self-isolating for 14 days and will be paid through a corporate and restaurant owner COVID-19 compensation fund to make up for any lost wages.

The site is to remain closed until it can be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and a separate crew of team members can be brought in, the company told the Free Press in an email.

The Ontario-headquartered company is calling for Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest to urge residents to wear face masks and follow social-distancing guidelines.

"We must work together as one to prevent the community spread of COVID-19," McCain said in his statement.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, which represents close to 2,000 of the plant's 2,300 workers, has called for a temporary shutdown, saying employees are scared.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said he shares their fear, but workers can have faith in public health officials.

"I'm scared for every Manitoban; I'm scared enough for everybody," Pallister said Friday morning. "The fact is, the company there has taken every step it's been asked to and more... We are following the best health advice that we can get here in Manitoba, and we're going to continue to."

 

Chart showing daily cumulative counts and status of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba

The province is currently carrying its highest number of active cases since April.

"We've been here before and we know what to do," said Roussin.

Manitobans can once again flatten the curve of COVID-19 with good hand hygiene, staying home when they're sick, keeping social distance, and not shaming or stigmatizing those infected, he said.

"Stigma can adversely affect our public health investigations," Roussin said. "It can make people and businesses less likely to co-operate with public health.

"This co-operation is vital to the success of public health and managing this outbreak."

 

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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History

Updated on Friday, August 7, 2020 at 7:19 PM CDT: Updates charts

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