July 9, 2020

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New COVID-19 cases tied to travel, but details withheld

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Repeated warnings from the province’s top doctor that importing the coronavirus from outside Manitoba remains the biggest threat to a low COVID-19 caseload were realized Friday.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 announced on Thursday in the Winnipeg region have been connected to travel.

Roussin had few details to share on Friday about the cases other than saying the individuals were close contacts to each other.

He did not answer where the two individuals — both men in their 20s from Winnipeg, according to data published by the province and analyzed by the Free Press — had returned from, if their travel was national or international, or their mode of transportation.

Dr. Brent Roussin wouldn't provide any details about the two men who contracted the virus or where they travelled. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Dr. Brent Roussin wouldn't provide any details about the two men who contracted the virus or where they travelled. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

It appears the two men followed public health orders to self-isolate after returning to the province because their contacts locally were limited, Roussin said.

"At this point I don’t have a bunch of details to share on the exact travel. It does appear they became symptomatic shortly after return and really outside of household contacts there doesn't appear to be any other contacts," he said.

Manitoba reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The total caseload is 294 with 14 cases active and 273 people listed as recovered. No one was in hospital as of Friday morning.

The province’s test positivity rate for the past five days was at 0.07 per cent, Roussin said.

Specific details about cases are seldom announced by the province — with officials citing privacy reasons — unless public health officials believe them to be useful or under questioning by members of the media. Details about age, gender and region of confirmed cases are only available through the province’s data portal and determined by looking at the change in numbers.

Dr. Joel Kettner, associate professor at the University of Manitoba Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, said as more people get out of their homes and economic restrictions are relaxed, additional details about exposures can support the public in managing their own risks.

There are few instances when sharing detailed information about the circumstances of a case would risk identifying an individual, said Kettner, who is also the province’s former public health officer.

"As the public health officials have said to us every day, it’s really the public, the individuals, who are going to make or break this and that means empowering individuals with the knowledge they need to behave in a way that's going to be most useful," Kettner said.

While not being critical of public health officials, Kettner said sharing details such as whether an individual went into isolation post-travel, whether a workplace had social distancing policies in place, or whether an exposure is tied to a specific activity, reinforces why people should follow public health recommendations.

"In other words, what do we know about the conditions under which the exposure happened? That's really important if we're going to focus on what are the exposures that we want to try to avoid," Kettner said. "The more details I think the better to help people make decisions about their behaviour, but to also have a better understanding by the public of why these policies are in place."

Manitoba New Democratic Party leader Wab Kinew called on the provincial government to release more information as part of its daily COVID-19 bulletin and explicitly include details such as age, gender, health region and type of transmission when new cases are identified. Apart from transmission type, other details are published as part of data dashboard on the government website.

"The more details the public have the more confident we can be about our public health," Kinew said. "It's up to the government to set the standard here and the government to provide direction.

"It shouldn't be up to reporters to have to press and try to extract information through Q and As or parse through the detailed data analysis. This information should be detailed explicitly. The premier and his cabinet should direct that be the standard going forward in phase two (of the economic reopening)."

Manitobans have to get used to seeing new cases of COVID-19 in the province and health officials will share details when they believe it will benefit the community, Roussin said.

"The information that we announce is to inform Manitobans and anytime that there is information that we have that should make Manitobans change their behaviour or be aware of something that should affect their behaviour, then we're definitely going to announce that," he said. "If we’re dealing with say a workplace that has cases in it where no members of the public have been exposed, there's no benefit to Manitobans to list that.

"If we have people who are travelling who have no other contacts and our advice is already to not travel outside of Manitoba, then listing precise details doesn't benefit Manitobans."


Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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