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Province tightens restrictions in western Manitoba in effort to contain COVID spread

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One day after the province unveiled its colour-coded COVID-19 pandemic response system, the city of Brandon and the surrounding Prairie Mountain Health region have had their threat assessment raised to orange.

As such, indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, with face masks mandatory in public spaces.

Contract tracing plan

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the province is looking for extra help with contact tracing.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the province is looking for extra help with contact tracing.

It has issued a request for proposal for additional contact tracing services — a critical step to help monitor and manage the transmission of the novel coronavirus, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Thursday.

Contact tracing is broken into three co-ordinated services, including case investigation, contact tracing, and daily follow-up during isolation.

The province set up a contact centre in April to provide additional support to public health officials responsible for making daily contact with people isolating after being identified as close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The province is now looking to build additional capacity, as the need for support increases with increased case counts and associated close contacts, Friesen said.

The reopening of schools and the resurgence of COVID-19 cases add to the need for the province to be able ramp up contract tracing when needed, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.

"Due to an increased number of cases, as well as community transmission, as well as the significant reports of increased gatherings, the Prairie Mountain region is being elevated to the restricted level of orange — immediately," Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference Thursday in Winnipeg.

The chief provincial public health officer also announced 33 new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba: 17 in Prairie Mountain, mostly in Brandon.

The mayor of Manitoba's second-largest city called it a "setback," and issued a warning: don't let this happen to you.

Cameron Friesen, Manitoba's Minister of Health and Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, announced that Brandon and the surrounding Prairie Mountain region have been upgraded to code orange under the province's colour-coded pandemic response system. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

RUTH BONNEVILLE

Cameron Friesen, Manitoba's Minister of Health and Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, announced that Brandon and the surrounding Prairie Mountain region have been upgraded to code orange under the province's colour-coded pandemic response system. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

"It needs to be a lesson for every Manitoba community, large and small," Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest said.

He recalled going 70 days, up until recently, with no new cases in the southwest region.

"I was so proud of our community. We did spectacular," he said. "Then, one case led to all of this. You can't let your guard down."

Orange alert

What orange-level restrictions mean for Prairie Mountain Health region

What orange-level restrictions mean for Prairie Mountain Health region:

— Indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people (including weddings, funerals, family get-togethers);

— Masks are mandatory indoors and at any public gatherings.

The restrictions won't be fully implemented until Monday, and will be imposed for at least one 14-day incubation period.

They don't apply to workplaces or any other establishments, such as restaurants and retail outlets. They don't apply to religious ceremonies in places of worship.

Brandon is grappling with 95 active cases — mostly clusters of connected cases but with evidence of spread in the community, Roussin said.

"There's a number of concerning exposures involving large groups at beaches and parks," he said. "We need to strengthen our measures there."

"We've got to stop these bigger gatherings — that what's contributing to this growth of the clusters," agreed Brandon's mayor.

The province also reported potential public exposures to COVID-19 at two gatherings: both Aug. 8, at Manipogo Provincial Park, and Crocus Plains soccer field in Brandon.

"This is a rapidly changing situation. It will take time to facilitate these measures," Roussin said of the new orange-level restrictions for Prairie Mountain.

The restrictions limit indoor and outdoor group sizes to 10 and make face masks mandatory indoors and at any public gatherings. However, they won't be fully implemented until Monday, Roussin said.

Details were to be released later Thursday but, as of press time, were not yet available.

"It doesn't apply to workplaces or any other establishments that are already dealt with under the (Public Health Act) order," Roussin said. "It doesn't apply to retail outlets — they have their section of the order that requires them to maintain physical distancing."

Nor does it apply to religious ceremonies in places of worship. "They have their own section in the orders. Those will remain the same at this point."

"There's a number of concerning exposures involving large groups at beaches and parks... We need to strengthen our measures there." –Dr. Brent Roussin

The four-tier colour-coded system ranges from "limited-risk" green to yellow "caution" to orange "restricted" to red "critical", with most of the province currently at yellow. One site is labelled red: Steinbach's Bethesda Place nursing home (one COVID-19 case) due to the deadly virus threat to residents.

The system is "flexible and responsive" and allows health officials to target areas and sectors without having to order broad-based shutdowns or sweeping restrictions, Roussin said.

"Right now, it's just the 10-person limit and mandatory masks (for Prairie Mountain)," Roussin said. "We're not seeing transmission at retail outlets or restaurants to a big degree right now."

However, further restrictions could be imposed in the region if the COVID-19 spread isn't brought under control, he said.

Brandon residents can — and will — get back to the fundamentals and follow orders, Chrest predicted.

"We will get a high degree of compliance over this," he said Thursday, after recording his twice-weekly YouTube COVID-19 update. "We're in a setback, there's no question about it.

"I hope this will send a real strong message to everyone to focus on the fundamentals."

Brandon Chamber of Commerce chairman Spencer Day said most local businesses have "embraced this challenge."

Day said close to 80 per cent of businesses in Brandon are already requiring mask use, and they've been following the public health orders.

"There's an urgency to remain open and generate revenue — a real desire to flatten this curve out here," said Day.

Prairie Mountain is one level away from the critical red zone: when COVID-19 is out of control, schools are closed and businesses are limited to electronic service and pick-up and delivery.

No one wants to end up in the red, Day said. "I don't want to think about that yet."

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

History

Updated on Thursday, August 20, 2020 at 7:35 PM CDT: Updates final story and adds graphics

11:16 PM: fixes typo

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