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Manitobans anxious for things to return to normal will find out later this week how more restrictions will be relaxed, but the move is tempered by the announcement that the province's latest case involves an employee at the Southdale Walmart.

Province fills in some data gaps with COVID-19 surveillance report

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An electron microscope image shows the virus that causes COVID-19.
An electron microscope image shows the virus that causes COVID-19.

Posted: 19/05/2020 10:04 PM

If someone in your home is infected with COVID-19, you have about a 10 per cent chance of contracting it yourself.

And while 47.1 per cent of Manitobans contracted the novel coronavirus while travelling, with another 41.5 per cent getting it from close contact with someone already infected, health officials have not yet been able to figure out where another 11.1 per cent picked it up.

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The province's chief public health officer said the employee may have exposed people to COVID-19 more than a week ago.

"It shows how easily an outbreak can occur," Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday.

The employee last worked the evening of May 9, was tested on May 14 and the result came back positive on the long weekend, Roussin said at his first press briefing since Friday.

"There's minimal risk in this situation," the doctor said. The worker who was on the floor of the Walmart from 4 to 9 p.m. a week ago Saturday practised social distancing, and didn't have close, prolonged contact with anyone, he said.

"In most of our case investigations, we can identify all the contacts," Roussin said, explaining that in this case, there's a five-hour window at an indoor place with multiple people coming and going.

"We thought this is something the public should be made aware of."

Written information about the retail employee testing positive was not included in the daily press release and wasn't posted as of Tuesday afternoon on the province's COVID-19 page that notifies the public of flights and events where there have been confirmed cases.

"It shows how easily an outbreak can occur." — Dr. Brent Roussin

Anyone who was in that Walmart at that time on that day and develops symptoms should get tested for COVID-19, Roussin said.

"It's really important to understand that it's only during that time that you need to be at all concerned," said Roussin. "It's not the day after, it's not today."

How the worker became infected can't be traced to any known cases or local contacts, which is concerning, he said.

"We can't link this case to anything (or anyone) in particular, so we know the virus is still here," Roussin warned.

Shoppers at the Walmart in the Southdale Shopping Centre Tuesday afternoon after it was announced that the latest person testing positive with COVID-19 in Manitoba is an employee at the store.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Shoppers at the Walmart in the Southdale Shopping Centre Tuesday afternoon after it was announced that the latest person testing positive with COVID-19 in Manitoba is an employee at the store.

But given the increased number of tests being performed and the low numbers of people testing positive, the situation is not running amok, he said.

Manitoba's numbers are "dramatically low," compared to Canada overall, he said. The province's test-positive proportion right now is less than one per cent, while the Canadian average is close to six or seven per cent of tests performed that come back positive.

"It's nice to see that," he said after 35,578 tests in Manitoba have turned up only 290 positive cases. No new cases were reported Tuesday.

"I think it looks favourable for us," he said.

"We've come up with a pretty good plan. It's not quite finalized yet. We're hoping to share the details of that Phase 2 plan later this week." — Dr. Brent Roussin

So favourable, that later this week he expects to announce the province can move to Phase 2 of restoring services before the June 1 target. The initial reopening plan Premier Brian Pallister unveiled in late April said Phase 2 should happen no earlier than June 1. The second phase includes increasing the size of public gatherings now limited to 10, allowing manicurists and pedicurists to reopen, as well as indoor restaurants at half-capacity.

Travel in North off limits

Travel to Northern Manitoba remains restricted even though there hasn't been a positive case of COVID-19 reported for close to seven weeks.

"That was the goal — to not have cases up north," Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday. So far, three people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Manitoba's North with no cases on any First Nations.

Travel to Northern Manitoba remains restricted even though there hasn't been a positive case of COVID-19 reported for close to seven weeks.

"That was the goal — to not have cases up north," Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday. So far, three people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Manitoba's North with no cases on any First Nations.

While a very low test-positive proportion is enough for restrictions to be lifted in the rest of the province, that's not the case north of the 53rd parallel, he said.

"Remote, isolated communities are susceptible to outbreaks," he said.

With more chronic health issues, crowded homes, fewer services and limited access to medical help, remote isolated communities are vulnerable to an outbreak of the potentially deadly virus and need to be protected from COVID-19. That isn't likely to change until a vaccine or effective treatment is developed.

And it raises the question of how long Manitoba will restrict travel to the entire province north of the 53rd parallel.

"We are going to likely be dealing with the virus for a long time," said Roussin. "At this point, relatively early on in the pandemic, we have to do what we can to protect those who are vulnerable and susceptible to severe outcomes like outbreaks."

The province will have to come up with ways of dealing with the virus, he said.

"Right now, as we gradually reopen things, we have to pay extra attention to make sure we're not introducing this virus to places that are very susceptible to large outbreaks."

Even if travel was restricted to only remote isolated communities in the North, people from those communities will still need to travel to larger centres, Roussin said.

"We're always looking at ways to balance these things to ensure we're allowing for economic activity to occur, but in a safe way."

In the meantime, anyone who knowingly violates the northern travel restriction risks a hefty fine.

Over the long weekend, Thompson RCMP charged eight people for violating public health orders for non-essential travel past the 53rd parallel.

Each of those charged said they were visiting friends and family in the Thompson area and knew that a travel restriction was in place but chose to ignore it, the RCMP said Tuesday.

Seven Winnipeg residents and one from Dauphin were issued $486 fines.

"Most Manitobans follow the advice," said Roussin. "Some require a bit of education or a reminder or assistance with how they can comply," he said.

"There are the rare ones that persistently don't follow orders. Those are the ones that would get the tickets or the fines," Roussin said.

Roussin wouldn't release any details of what the next stage of reopening will look like.

"We've come up with a pretty good plan," he said. "It's not quite finalized yet. We're hoping to share the details of that Phase 2 plan later this week."

He said any negative impacts or a spike of COVID-19 cases from Manitobans being out and about on the long weekend wouldn't be noticeable for a week or two — the incubation period for the virus. Public health is waiting to see if anyone connected to the latest Winnipeg case tests positive.

"This is a reminder of the importance as we move to re-open things that we have to ensure we're not out in public when we're ill," Roussin said.

For restrictions to lift, Manitobans have to stay home when they're sick, keep social distancing and wash their hands frequently so the number of coronavirus cases stays low, he said.

"We could see that upward trend again if we let up on our precautions," he said.

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.

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