For the first time since the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic gripped Manitoba, the test positivity rate in Winnipeg has dropped below three per cent — a goalpost the province’s top doctor said long ago indicates widespread community transmission.
Public health officials announced two new deaths, 50 additional cases of the virus and 1,866 tests complete as of Sunday morning.
A man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s, both from Winnipeg, are among the now 895 Manitobans who have died from the virus.
The total number of lab-confirmed cases in Manitoba sits at 31,859, of which 1,194 are active.
A total of 192 people are in hospital, while 26 are in the intensive care unit, with 72 and 11 of those cases accounting for active COVID-19 patients, respectively.
No new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, of which there are five cases to date, were reported over the weekend.
The majority of new cases reported are in Manitoba’s north and capital; in both regions, there were 21 new cases.
Also Sunday, the province reported the current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 3.7 per cent provincially and 2.7 per cent in Winnipeg.
Epidemiologist Cynthia Carr called the latest figures "good news," especially on the variant front.
"I’m always cautious about reacting to one day of data, particularly over a weekend. I like to look at how many people are tested and what the positivity rate is, but certainly, the trend that we’re seeing is a continued, real reduction that we’re sustaining," said Carr, founder of Winnipeg-based EPI Research Inc.
Manitoba only began publishing the test positivity rate — the percentage of people who have tested positive for the virus of the total number tested during a five-day period — in Winnipeg in late October, saying it is less reliable than the provincial rate because of the smaller sample size.
At that point, the figure was more than triple the current percentage, at 9.9 per cent.
Winnipeg’s test positivity rate peaked at 14.9 per cent in early December.
In the early days of the pandemic, provincial chief medical officer Dr. Brent Roussin warned of the prospect of a three per cent test positivity rate, which he said would signify widespread community transmission and trigger increased restrictions.
Last week, Roussin said the province is considering a further rollback of restrictions when the current public health order expires Friday.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.