Just over a week before public health restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 are up for review, Manitoba recorded five more pandemic deaths and 158 new cases, with the majority in the north.
On Wednesday, Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, called the latest COVID-19 metrics encouraging.
"We are headed in a good direction," Atwal said. "The actions taken by Manitobans is making a difference. However, it is too early to take a victory lap."
Given the number of cases flowing from holiday gatherings and nearly 3,000 people identified as close contacts, Atwal said Manitobans have to buckle down for "a little bit longer."
Yet, there were some signs of improvement Wednesday with the five-day test positivity rate in Winnipeg dipping to 7.4 per cent. Provincially, the five-day positivity rate was at 9.6 per cent. Just 1,778 tests were run on Tuesday.
Of the 158 new infections, 70 were detected in the Northern Health Region. Winnipeg followed in second with 61 new cases, Prairie Mountain Health reported 12 cases, Southern Health had eight, and Interlake-Eastern reported seven.
However, despite lower case numbers, Atwal said the province is not "back to normal" and Manitobans need to remain vigilant.
"If we let up now, all the hard work for the past several weeks could be for nothing," he said. "We could be back to where we started in November.
"We need to do this in order to bring our numbers down further and reduce the strain on our health-care system," he said.
On Wednesday, there were 289 total COVID-19 hospitalizations (119 were considered infectious) including 36 in intensive care.
The COVID-19 death toll stood at 753 on Wednesday as four more seniors (three of whom were connected to outbreaks at a personal care home or health centre) and a man in his 50s succumbed to the disease.
The province noted 2,928 cases remain active, though that number may be inflated due to data entry backlogs.
It's been almost three weeks since Christmas, and nearly one incubation period has passed since New Year's Eve. Atwal suggested Manitobans may have already seen the holiday bump in case counts.
"It’s hard to predict again where the numbers are going to go, but this is encouraging that we haven’t seen a large bump up in cases. We did dip down to below 100 as well, so we have to think about that," he said. "We do have pockets within Manitoba that are having some outbreak issues, and having some issues in relation to COVID-19 as well.
"The next few days will be telling from a case standpoint and from a risk standpoint as well," he said.
Code red restrictions are in effect until Jan. 22.
In Indigenous communities, the test positivity rate reached 18 per cent, the First Nations Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team reported.
New clusters of cases related to large households were confirmed in Lynn Lake and Thompson, Atwal said, with the communities reporting 37 and 14 cases, respectively.
An outbreak was declared at Extendicare Tuxedo Villa Personal Care Home in Winnipeg on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the outbreak at Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre Personal Care Home has ended.
— with files from Katie May
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.