September 30, 2020

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Manitoba to stay the course as COVID-19 case counts spike

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While the number of active novel coronavirus cases has been soaring, the province has no immediate plans to slap new restrictions on Manitobans' movements.

Nor is it looking at any special rules for folks living in Brandon, where a cluster of cases has now risen to 64, including 22 who work at the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. meat processing plant.

On Monday, health officials reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba, on top of 51 announced over the weekend.

Chart showing new daily cases and seven-day moving average

Of the new cases, 11 were in the Prairie Mountain Health region, which includes the city of Brandon; five were located in Southern Health region.

The new cases bring the grand total so far to 558 in Manitoba. The current five-day test positivity rate has climbed to 1.59 per cent, compared with 0.46 per cent immediately following the long weekend.

Of the six people currently in hospital with COVID-19, three are in intensive care, including one on a ventilator.

There are now 196 active cases of the virus in the province, compared with only one just four weeks ago.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, said the rising case counts themselves are no reason to scale back the partial reopening of the economy or to place renewed restrictions on Manitobans.

Most of the new cases announced in recent days are connected to known clusters in Brandon and the Southern Health region, he said Monday. There is evidence of some community transmission of the virus, but not a lot, he said.

Chart showing daily reported cases of COVID-19 by regional health authority

"Certainly, extra precautions are needed in those areas where we're starting to see increased numbers," Roussin told a media briefing.

Before it knew a lot about COVID-19, the province took a blunt, broad-based approach in restricting people's movements. The plan going forward is to take "a more surgical approach" if restrictions are required, Roussin said.

"We need to find ways to live with this virus and not continually shut things down when we see cases," Roussin said. "We need to get used to seeing cases. We have to get used to living with the fundamentals which will allow us to not restrict things again to the nature we had in April."

If greater restrictions are needed in specific regions or municipalities, they will be implemented, he said. However, health officials do not think conditions have reached that state in Brandon yet.

Case counts themselves are just one factor to be considered in reimposing restrictions, Roussin said. The level of community spread (historically 11 per cent in Manitoba) is also a factor. So is the level of demands being placed on hospitals.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Manitobans will receive more precise geographic information on new COVID-19 cases "before the week is out."

He did not indicate whether information would be provided on a municipal basis or for zones or districts within health regions.

Chart showing daily and fivve-day positivity rates for COVID-19 in Manitoba

In North Dakota, for example, case information is provided on a county basis.

Until now, the province has mainly identified new cases on a provincial and regional health region basis. An exception has been the recent outbreak in Brandon.

Meanwhile, Roussin said there was no large community event at the root of the Brandon case cluster.

Officials are still unsure whether a traveller from eastern Manitoba who did not properly self-isolate is the cause or merely a contributor to the outbreak. All officials know is it emanated from "certain areas of the community where people are living together and are connected frequently," Roussin said.

Walmart cases

Walmart Canada said Monday three employees at two Manitoba stores have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks.

One case was at the Winnipeg North store on McPhillips Street, where the employee last worked Aug. 2.

The other two cases were at the Walmart in Brandon, where one of the employees last worked Aug. 2, and the other July 26.

Walmart Canada said Monday three employees at two Manitoba stores have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks.

One case was at the Winnipeg North store on McPhillips Street, where the employee last worked Aug. 2.

The other two cases were at the Walmart in Brandon, where one of the employees last worked Aug. 2, and the other July 26.

“Everyone at Walmart wishes them a speedy recovery,” spokesman Adam Grachnik said in an email.

The co-workers who were in close prolonged contact with the individuals who tested positive have been directed to self-isolate, and are being paid while they isolate, he said.

Walmart has been doing “regular enhanced cleaning” and taken other measures to protect customers and employees, Grachnik said.

The province did not issue an advisory about the Manitoba Walmart cases.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin has said the public will be notified only when officials are unable to identify all those who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Asked about the case at the McPhillips Street location Monday, he said the employee was last at work 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms, all contacts had been identified, and the risk to the public was "very, very low."

While Roussin has repeatedly said there is no evidence the Brandon outbreak is linked to the operations of the Maple Leaf plant, the NDP's health critic, Uzoma Asagwara, joined the workers' union in calling for it to temporarily close.

"I think that calls to close the Maple Leaf plant are valid calls," Asagwara said.

Asagwara also called for the Manitoba legislature to resume sitting, so MLAs can debate how best to navigate the surge in COVID-19 cases and the reopening of schools in four weeks' time.

Roussin and Friesen emphasized Manitoba's back-to-school planning — including the use of face masks — is constantly evolving to ensure child safety.

Asked about parental concern about the risks of sending children back to school this fall, they countered there are also risks to massive school shutdowns.

Roussin noted children are less likely to have "severe outcomes," if they contract the coronavirus. "The younger kids, at least, are shown to not be significant in the transmission of the virus."

Despite the recent spike in provincial cases, Roussin said there's a lot Manitobans can do to minimize their risk of contracting COVID-19.

That includes frequent hand-washing, ensuring physical distancing and wearing masks where physical distancing is difficult or impossible. It may also include avoiding certain riskier activities.

"I've gone to restaurants with my family. If I walked into a restaurant that was crowded, I would walk out," Roussin said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

Read full biography

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

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