September 19, 2020

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COVID spike second worst day to date

Brandon, Maple Leaf plant behind most of 35 new cases

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer

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The province announced 35 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday, marking the second highest number of increased cases in Manitoba on record.

The only time Manitoba saw a spike higher than this was on April 2, when the province announced 40 new cases.

There are now 182 active cases in the province. Six are in hospital, and three are in intensive care. Manitoba has had 542 cases overall. The five-day test positivity rate sits at 1.45 per cent.

"These cases are a reminder that COVID is not done with us yet here in Manitoba," said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer.

In addition, Roussin said at Sunday's news conference that the current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 1.45 per cent. On Saturday, it was 1.23 per cent.

"We've been here before and we never have been helpless against this virus," he said.

So far, 100,830 tests have been conducted in the province.

Forty of the province’s active cases are in Brandon. Twenty of the cases announced Sunday are from the Prairie Mountain Health region; seven were confirmed to come from "a business in Brandon," Roussin said.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 later stated in an email they’d been informed of eight more positive cases of COVID-19 at the Maple Leaf Foods plant in Brandon.

"We still don’t see evidence of workplace transmission," Roussin said. "However, case investigations are continuing."

Roussin added the meat plant is going beyond public health guidelines by having a larger number of workers self-isolating than recommended. Public health officials, provincial agricultural officials and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are keeping tabs on the situation, Roussin said.

In total, 18 Maple Leaf Foods workers in Brandon have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, Janet Riley, the company’s vice president of communications and public affairs, said in a written statement.

"Fortunately, all of these team members are recuperating at home," Riley wrote.

There have been 131 Brandon employees that have tested negative for the novel coronavirus, Riley said.

"Public Health officials support our view that our workplace remains safe and that there is no reason to suspend operations: simply put, based on all the evidence, COVID-19 is not being spread at our plant," Riley wrote.

She said the plant will stay open as long as it can provide a safe work environment and the facility is not a source of transmission.

"We will continue to be vigilant using our robust pandemic protocols including daily health and temperature screening, mandatory face coverings and careful social distancing," Riley wrote.

Representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, which represents close to 2,000 of the meat plant’s 2,300 workers, is still calling for the plant to temporarily close down.

"These new cases strengthen our call on Maple Leaf Brandon to close for a one-week period until all test results are in, and the situation is under control," Jeff Traeger, the union’s president, stated in an email.

Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest said the city’s cluster of cases is concerning.

"I know that residents of Brandon are concerned, and some are frightened, and we need to again emphasize the message that Dr. Roussin provides — that we are not helpless in this, and we haven’t been helpless all along," Chrest said.

People need to follow the fundamentals, such as hand sanitizing, physical distancing, staying home when sick and getting tested if you have symptoms, Chrest said.

He said he’s seen an uptick in people wearing masks, but the trend began before the cluster of cases grew in Brandon.

"We follow the health experts’ advice and have done so from the beginning," Chrest said, adding that the community had low case counts until this cluster.

"This is not really the fault of anyone," he said. "It just shows how easy it is, if a case gets into a group of people, it can rapidly spread."

The province announced 10 new cases in the Southern Health region, four new cases in Winnipeg and one new case in the Interlake-Eastern health region.

Of the 100,830 tests conducted in the province so far, 756 tests happened Saturday.

Roussin said while many of the new cases are linked to the clusters in Brandon and southern Manitoba, there is a small number of cases considered community transmission, and investigations are ongoing.

He repeated that people should avoid crowded indoor places and that masks should be worn when social distancing cannot be maintained.

He said Sunday that officials may not be able to identify the origin of the Brandon cluster, although it was suspected to have started with a person who had travelled to Eastern Canada. Last week, Roussin said the person may have self-isolated in their home, but had contact with family members in the home who didn't self-isolate.

In early July, there were two weeks with no new cases announced. Roussin said Sunday that the virus never left the province. "We've always remained at risk," he said.

He pointed out the new cases are related to the clusters or their contacts. 

"This is what happens when... there are situations where there is potentially crowding or a lot of contacts.

He said although widespread restrictions and shutdowns were put in place in March to stop the spread of the virus in the province, it would be unrealistic to revert back to that strategy now. 

"We really want to be in a place where we can live with this virus and not need to have dramatic restrictions as we once required."

gabrielle.piche@freepress.mb.ca

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Community journalist — The Headliner

Gabrielle Piché is the community journalist for The Headliner. Email her at gabrielle.piche@canstarnews.com

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History

Updated on Monday, August 10, 2020 at 5:30 AM CDT: Updates with writethrough

8:36 AM: Adds quotes from Roussin, adds photo

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