The data is clear: Manitobans, for the most part, have got the message and are staying at home.

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The data is clear: Manitobans, for the most part, have got the message and are staying at home.

But there are outliers ignoring public-health directives, increasing the risk of community spread of COVID-19, which has eclipsed 100,000 deaths worldwide.

Data from Toronto-based Environics Analytics shows Manitoba has done well when it comes to sheltering at home as the pandemic deepens.

Environics Analytics senior vice-president Rupen Seoni said the company used cellphone location data from apps to track weekend movements throughout the country from Feb. 1 to April 5.

The data was used to calculate an "out-and-about rate," looking at those who were 100 metres or more away from their home postal code for at least 30 minutes during daytime hours on a weekend.

"We’ve been working for three-plus years on using opt-in mobile device movement data. It is consenting…. It’s all based on people opting-in on an app-based permission," Seoni said.

"It became very apparent to us that this is useful from a COVID perspective because people are being asked to stay at home."

On the weekend of Feb. 1, a month before "social distancing" became common parlance in Manitobans' vocabulary, the province had an out-and-about rate of 35 per cent — one of the highest in the country.

By the weekend of April 5, that figure dropped to 15 per cent — one percentage point below the national average.

Large crowds like the ones at the Gimli Icelandic Festival in the summer of 2015 will be uncommon in the province this year.

TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Large crowds like the ones at the Gimli Icelandic Festival in the summer of 2015 will be uncommon in the province this year.

Manitoba’s rate largely follows a trend and timeline seen across the country. From a baseline of 35 per cent, the province saw a seven per cent dip between the weekends of March 8 and 15, which bookends the announcement of Manitoba’s first positive case of COVID-19.

The weekend after Manitoba declared a state of emergency on March 20, the out-and-about rate fell another five per cent, holding steady at 22 per cent for a week.

That period also marked the first death in the province attributed to the coronavirus, followed by several days of double-digit case announcements, as well as a new public-health directive to shutter all "non-critical" businesses.

By April 5, Manitoba’s out-and-about rate was 15 per cent, below every province but Quebec.

"You can only get so far with blanket, broad-based messaging. A lot of that has been effective in changing people’s behaviour, but there’s still going to be people who either won’t abide by the stay-at-home guidelines, or they can’t because they’re essential workers," Seoni said.

Melanie and Shane Embury, a husband and wife who manage a business in Gimli, weren’t surprised to learn some Manitobans are thumbing their noses at stay-at-home orders.

"The frustration for us was the amount of people coming out for days trips. There’s no reason for that. People are coming out in groups. They’re coming to the store and asking to use the washroom. They’re frustrated with us because there’s no washrooms in Gimli for them to use." — Gimli business manager, Shane Embury

They said it was clear to them hundreds of Winnipeggers made day trips to the community on the west side of Lake Winnipeg over the long weekend.

"The frustration for us was the amount of people coming out for days trips. There’s no reason for that. People are coming out in groups. They’re coming to the store and asking to use the washroom. They’re frustrated with us because there’s no washrooms in Gimli for them to use," Shane said.

"It’s like, ‘You know where the washroom is? It’s at home where you’re supposed to be.’"

Melanie said their son also works at the store and she’s worried about her family’s safety, particularly as the weather improves, increasing the chance of drawing more out-of-town visitors.

"We did 500 transactions on Friday. Out of those, at least 300 were people we’d never seen before. And out of that, I’d say about 100 were people coming in groups who were obviously just out here on day trips," Shane said.

"We don’t have a problem if you want to come out for a drive, but pack some groceries, some water or whatever, and stay in your car."

Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament Greg Rickford, who represents the riding of Kenora-Rainy River, has been outspoken on social media about the need for Manitobans to stay home and refrain from travelling to their cottages during the pandemic.

On April 4, Rickford took to Twitter to say there are growing numbers of cottagers returning to the area, and warning this could overwhelm the regional health authority if there’s a spike in COVID-19 cases.

"I have worked closely with the municipalities, health units and Indigenous leaders across northwestern Ontario, and we all share the same concern for continued cottage travel into the Kenora area," Rickford said in a written statement.

"The Northwestern Health unit does not have the capacity to deal with an influx in population… I am asking all seasonal residents to respect our efforts to contain the spread and protect our health-care services. When this is over, we will welcome our friends from Manitoba with open arms, but right now we need everyone to do their part and stay home."

Seoni said that as the pandemic continues governments and public-health authorities will need better and more localized data to properly tailor their messaging and reduce the risk of continued community transmission.

"Understanding who those populations are and where they are can help the government and public health design better messaging, better interventions, and to focus on those populations that will not, or cannot, comply," he said.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

michael.pereira@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_m_pereira

Michael Pereira

Michael Pereira
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Michael Pereira is a data journalist and developer who spends his days pulling data from (sometimes unwilling) sources, extracting meaning for readers and producing graphics that tell a story.

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Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
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Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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