Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer is endorsing the outdoors use of face coverings to guard against highly contagious variants of COVID-19.

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Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer is endorsing the outdoors use of face coverings to guard against highly contagious variants of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Dr. Brent Roussin said he recommends Manitobans wear masks when gathering outside, particularly for people who don't live in the same household.

The province's current rules state masks must be worn in indoor public spaces. Prior to Tuesday, Roussin hadn't issued specific advice on outdoor mask use.

"The risk is lower outdoors, but it certainly isn’t zero," he said during a news conference.

"We do see outdoor transmission here and in other parts of the country. So please stay home if you’re sick, please watch those gatherings, and even though our mask mandate is for indoor public places, even if you’re gathering outdoors, I recommend wearing a mask if you’re gathering with people outside of your household."

No data has been released on outdoor transmission of COVID-19 in Manitoba.

When asked how many cases, including those involving highly contagious variants, have been linked to outdoor gatherings or outdoor community transmission, a provincial government spokesperson said the province's COVID-19 case data doesn't include that level of detail.

Roussin made the recommendation as he urged Manitobans to avoid all non-essential travel, even within the province, to prevent variants of the virus from spreading.

Two more COVID-19 deaths and 62 new cases of the novel coronavirus have been detected in Manitoba, provincial officials announced Tuesday.

Manitobans should wear masks when gathering outside, especially people who don't live in the same household, Dr. Brent Roussin says. (Burhan Ozbilici / The Associated Press files)</p>

Manitobans should wear masks when gathering outside, especially people who don't live in the same household, Dr. Brent Roussin says. (Burhan Ozbilici / The Associated Press files)

Five new cases of the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant (first identified in the U.K.) have also been detected, bringing the total number of cases of variants of concern to 275.

It could be two to four weeks before Manitoba logs the impact of any gatherings held over the Easter weekend. Anyone who left the province for spring break needs to follow self-isolation requirements, Roussin said.

"It's imperative that we continue to keep our case numbers down related to (highly contagious variants), and by not travelling outside the province, that's our best way of doing so," he said.

Of the cases announced Tuesday, most were in Winnipeg and the North.

There were 33 new cases recorded in the Winnipeg health region, 23 in Northern Health, four in Prairie Mountain, and one each in the Interlake-Eastern and Southern Health regions.

The provincial test positivity rate reached 5.3 per cent Tuesday, the highest it's been in several weeks.

Roussin noted it's just one indicator public health officials are using to measure the impact of COVID-19 in Manitoba — one that's harder to rely on as testing volumes drop, as they did over the recent long weekend. Public health officials are also monitoring current demands on the health care system.

Hospitalization rates are slowly declining: 140 Manitobans were hospitalized with COVID-19, compared with 148 on April 1.

Of those 140 patients, 30 were in intensive care units (14 were considered infectious, 16 still needed care even though they're no longer contagious).

At this point in the pandemic, 942 Manitobans have died of COVID-19. The deaths announced Tuesday included: a woman in her 80s linked to an outbreak at Grace Hospital unit 3 South; and a woman in her 90s from Winnipeg.

An outbreak has been declared at St. Boniface Hospital unit B5.