The pandemic picture appears positive in Manitoba: daily COVID-19 infections and test positivity rates are the lowest since mid-October; hospitalization numbers are down; and more restrictions could soon be loosened.
But that doesn’t mean Manitobans can let their guard down, the province's top doctor warns.
At a news conference Monday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Manitoba remains in a "risky spot," even as leadership prepares to further relax pandemic restrictions this week.
Roussin said he will share more details Tuesday about the province’s plan to open up the economy Saturday, when current public health orders expire. Last week, Roussin and Premier Brian Pallister introduced a slate of services they may allow to resume, including restaurants, gyms and churches at limited capacity.
"We can't undo all of this hard work by simply opening everything up again," Roussin said, emphasizing the province will continue its plans at a "slow, cautious" pace.
"We’re doing things very intentionally to ensure we don’t again see widespread community-based transmission," he said. "If we go too fast, if we have too many Manitobans trying to work around the cautious approach, we could see ourselves needing to put restrictions on again."
Fifty-three new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported Monday: 31 in Winnipeg, 12 in the Northern Health region, four in Southern Health, and three in both Interlake-Eastern and Prairie Mountain.
In Winnipeg, the five-day positivity rate was 4.2 per cent, and has been below five per cent since Jan. 29. According to the World Health Organization, the test positivity rate should be below five per cent for at least two weeks before government begins easing pandemic restrictions.
The provincial test positivity rate was 5.9 per cent — the lowest reported since Oct. 21, 2020, when COVID-19 cases in Manitoba began to escalate, and less than two weeks before Winnipeg was moved to code red (critical) on the pandemic response system.
Roussin said the test positivity rate remains an important factor in the decisions public health will make when it comes to reducing restrictions, alongside absolute case counts and pressure on the health-care system.
At this time, with stable testing volumes, it is a reliable indicator on transmission rates in the community, he said. The positivity rate has improved significantly from two weeks ago, when about 10 per cent of tests were coming back positive for COVID-19.
"We had fairly stable test volume and, over time, we've seen total cases coming down — and then at the same time as test positivity coming down. So it does seem to be a fairly good indicator of the amount of transmission we're seeing right now."
However, current test positivity rates also resemble the figures posted in late October, when few pandemic restrictions were in place, by comparison, and upwards of 100 cases were reported daily. With that in mind, Roussin again cautioned against lifting pandemic restrictions too quickly.
When asked Monday whether employees should consider returning to offices now that case numbers are on the decline, Roussin insisted people should keep their contacts to a minimum.
"People who are able to work from home, and it works for them and works for the business, then I would encourage you to continue to do so," he said. "There’s no reason to needlessly increase our risk at this point."
Four more Manitobans have died from the virus: a woman in her 60s and a woman in her 70s from Northern Health; a Winnipeg man in his 70s; and a woman in her 80s linked to an outbreak at Morris General Hospital in Southern Health.
Since the pandemic began, 850 Manitobans have died from COVID-19.
On Monday, 271 people were in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 105 active cases. There were 34 pandemic patients in the province's intensive care units, 15 of them active cases.
Outbreaks have been declared at Actionmarguerite St. Boniface, Seven Oaks General Hospital Unit 3U1-3, and St. Amant Health and Transition Services — all located in Winnipeg.
Outbreaks have ended at St. Paul’s Personal Care Home (Dauphin), Salem Home (Winkler), and Extendicare Tuxedo Villa care home and Seven Oaks Unit 4U8-12 in Winnipeg.
— with files from Katie May
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.