Winnipeggers will soon have a better idea of where people who've tested positive for COVID-19 live.
"We will be providing more specificity to Winnipeg," Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Tuesday.
By the end of the week, novel coronavirus case counts for Winnipeg will be broken down into 12 health districts so the public can see how many active and recovered cases, hospitalizations and deaths there are in different parts of the city. In August, the province started providing district-by-district COVID-19 case numbers for each of the vast, sprawling health regions outside of Winnipeg so people would have a better idea of where the virus is active.
"I want to update all Manitobans and indicate that public health has indicated they support that same district-based reporting be applied to Winnipeg," Friesen said.
That's an about-face for chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin. On Aug. 27, he said that more specific geographical information for Winnipeg would not be helpful because you don't know where someone who tests positive for COVID-19 has been. A Winnipegger who tests positive for COVID-19 could live in north Winnipeg, work in west Winnipeg and visit family in south Winnipeg, he explained at the time.
On Tuesday, at a press conference with the health minister, Roussin said the decision to disclose where cases are reported in Winnipeg was to satisfy Manitobans' desire for more information.
"Manitobans have repeatedly said they want more and more information," said Roussin. "This is just another step in that direction."
Roussin said they expect to have breakdowns for 12 communities in Winnipeg within days. The information will be presented in the same format as district data for the other health regions, listing online the number of active and recovered cases as well as deaths and total cases.
"It's certainly not to be able to guide people's actions," Roussin said. "If we see one community area that has a preponderance of cases, it doesn't mean that's where the cases were acquired. It doesn't mean you can pay less attention to the fundamentals in other areas."
The district is identified by the postal code on the COVID-19 patient's Manitoba Health card, Roussin said. "It's not a lot of information, so public health wouldn't be instituting any restrictions based on a community areas," he said. "It doesn't say if they acquired it in Winnipeg."
The public health chief has tried not to identify communities with cases — referring to Hutterite colonies as "communal living situations" to prevent them from being stigmatized — while at the same time dealing with fears of others in a health region with a high case count who wonder if it's safe to go to the store or dine out.
"We started talking about communal living situations and it's a balance that risks stigmatizing people but it might also be misleading to Manitobans when at one point almost half of our cases were related to that (communal living situations)."
On Tuesday, 11 new cases were reported in Manitoba — none of which is in the Prairie Mountain Health region that includes the COVID-19 hot spot of Brandon, that appears to be cooling off, said Roussin.
"Over the last two weeks, there has been a clear decline in daily case counts in Prairie Mountain," he said.
Since July 1, the region has reported 457 cases. A total of 317 of those cases are related to "communal living situations," of which 89 are active. The health region has 214 active cases, 86 of which are linked to "a Brandon business" which has been identified as the Maple Leaf Foods meat plant. Public health officials on Aug. 20 declared the entire region a code orange, or "restricted" under its pandemic response system. It means masks are mandatory in public places and gathering sizes are limited. Friesen and Roussin said the measures appear to be working.
"We're certainly seeing the trend moving in the right direction," Roussin said, adding it's too soon to say when restrictions will be lifted.
"We're just into one incubation period since we put the restrictions on," he said. "We need to see more of this trend for much longer — for perhaps another incubation period (two weeks) or at least half an incubation period."
As provincial health officials promised more health information in the days ahead for Winnipeg, they confirmed Tuesday that seven of the 16 Manitobans infected with COVID-19 who died contracted the virus at health care facilities. They include four residents of Bethesda Place nursing home in Steinbach, one who was a resident at Poseidon Care Centre in Winnipeg who died in mid-April and two patients at Health Sciences Centre who died early in the pandemic.
Updated information was also provided about the COVID-19 situation at eight Manitoba personal care homes. "Critical" code-red outbreaks have been declared at seven of them, with no visitors allowed.
In Steinbach, there were 13 cases at Bethesda Place on Tuesday.
In Brandon, there were 10 cases at the Brandon Regional Health Centre's Assiniboine Building (three staff and seven patients), three cases involving staff at Fairview Personal Care Home, four cases at Hillcrest Place (two staff and two residents), and two cases at Rideau Park involving staff.
In Winnipeg, there was one case involving staff at both Fred Douglas Lodge and Concordia Place, and two staff members who tested positive at Beacon Hill Lodge. One resident at Donwood Elderly Person Housing has tested positive, and the residence, which is next door to a personal care home, has been placed under code orange "restricted" status as a precaution.
Friesen said the province's "co-visitation strategy" to establish shelters in or adjacent to personal care homes, which would allow residents to have visitors while lessening the risk of the virus spreading in a vulnerable population, is expected to be running by late fall.
"We have to make sure these are here for the purpose of visitation," said Friesen.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.