Four more seniors are being mourned after Manitoba reported its deadliest day of the pandemic Thursday, bringing the death toll to 47 since the virus arrived in the province seven months ago.
And the news from chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin remained solemn as he announced 147 new cases of COVID-19, the second greatest single-day increase, and a 5.6 per cent five-day test positivity rate for all of Manitoba.
A new record was also set Thursday, as the top doctor reported 42 people were hospitalized due to the contagion, including eight who are in intensive care.
"The numbers that have been climbing like this also send a message to people in Winnipeg, to Manitobans, that we have to change things: that we fell back on the fundamentals, we got back to all that normalcy that we want, but we just know this is what happens when we attempt that," Roussin implored.
Eighty-seven of the new cases are in Winnipeg, where the five-day test positivity rate is 6.5 per cent, but the number of cases is spiking across the province. There with 33 cases reported in Southern Health, 10 cases in each of the Northern and Interlake-Eastern Health regions, and seven cases in Prairie Mountain Health.
Three Winnipeg-area seniors, one man in his 70s and the other two in their 80s, died due to COVID-19, Roussin said. Two had lived at Parkview Place Long Term Care Home on Edmonton Street, where 14 residents have died since an outbreak was declared in mid-September. The fourth fatality is a man in his 80s from the Interlake-Eastern health region.
Outbreaks have been declared in multiple places, including St. Boniface Hospital, 10 personal care homes, two schools and at the Headingley jail, where 200 inmates are in self-isolation.
On Thursday, the Manitoba Nurses Union confirmed a number of patients, and one nurse, connected to the fifth floor of Victoria General Hospital had tested positive for COVID-19. Later, the hospital said an outbreak had been declared on one of its family medicine units (5N) and involved two patients. It is also investigating positive cases linked to a second family medicine unit (5S)."
St. Boniface Hospital is working to contain an outbreak that affects two medicine units, which was announced last week. So far, 11 patients and five staff have tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile multiple communities in the north and in remote areas, including First Nations, are managing clusters of their own.
In Thompson, multiple people at a homeless shelter have tested positive for the disease.
An outbreak has also been declared at Ochekwi Sipi Personal Care Home in Fisher River Cree Nation after one staff member tested positive. There are five active cases in that community and 21 people have recovered
In Peguis First Nation, about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg in the Interlake, 21 cases of COVID-19 have been reported and at least 90 people are in self-isolation.
On a positive note, a deadly outbreak at Bethesda Place personal care home in Steinbach was declared to be over on Thursday. The outbreak began in mid-August and had 18 cases. Four residents of the home died.
Beware the contact tracing hoax: Roussin
Manitoba's top doctor is telling people to be wary of anyone who goes door to door claiming to be a contact-tracer for the provincial government.
"We have been informed that people have been contacted by people who are claiming to be public health nurses, coming to their door," Roussin said.
People who have been tested for COVID-19 will receive a phone call from public health and will not typically go to people's homes, he said.
People are told to contact the Winnipeg Police Service non-emergency line to report suspicious activity.
Roussin said new measures will take effect on Monday to crack down on the spread of the virus before the health care and public health systems become overwhelmed.
Public health orders, similar to those currently in effect in the Winnipeg metropolitan region, will be put into place in the Northern health region and Churchill for a minimum of two weeks. Casinos, bingo halls and entertainment facilities will be closed, occupancy will be limited in retail settings and gatherings reduced to five people.
Schools in the Winnipeg metropolitan region, in the north and Churchill, must also ensure two metres of physical distancing to the greatest extent possible, suspend choir and the use of wind instruments, and extracurricular activities will only be allowed if learning and distancing requirements are met.
"These restrictions are required and we need people to take them seriously, to not look for ways to work around them, because we know the larger gathering sizes put people at risk," Roussin said.
Manitoba has recorded 3,773 total cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and according to the province 1,806 are active.
However that number is significantly inflated due to a backlog in data entry as the public health branch struggles to keep up with daily double- and triple-digit case increases.
Public health nurses are falling behind in contacting people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to begin their case investigations, Roussin said.
Under ideal circumstances, 90 per cent of a person’s contacts will hear from a public health nurse within 24 hours. However, some Manitobans with a positive diagnosis have reported waiting days to hear from a public health nurse to tell them who they might have been in touch with.
"This week and late last week we have run into a backlog in our cases. We have put a lot of measures in place, in the immediate term to address that backlog," Roussin said.
The province said it is still in discussions with the Canadian Red Cross and Statistics Canada to see how many more staff the two agencies can provide to assist with contact tracing. The government said it has put in a new process to re-distribute the contact tracing workload to more people, and said daily improvements in capacity are anticipated.
Asked whether the province would be in better shape today had more resources been available a month ago, Roussin said it’s difficult to comment on a hypothetical situation.
"Overall, we’re going to be in a better situation if we can maintain our ability to contact trace," he said.
— with files from Katie May
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.