March 30, 2020

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ABOVE THE FOLD

Provincial COVID-19 case count jumps to 35

Health minister calls on private sector to help equip health system

Manitoba reported a surge in presumptive COVID-19 cases on Wednesday while an unquantified test-processing backlog persisted at the Cadham Provincial Lab.

The province announced 14 new coronavirus cases, including a Winnipeg girl under 10 years of age, bringing the total to 35.

 

Graphic showing daily number of positive test results for COVID-19

 

A city woman in her 60s has been admitted to hospital in critical condition, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said. She's in intensive care.

The province's health minister refused to answer specific questions about the case — including when and how she came to hospital or whether she had been previously tested for the coronavirus, citing privacy legislation.

Help wanted

Health Minister Cameron Friesen called on businesses and individuals who want to help with the COVID-19 pandemic response to sign up online.

An online portal opened Wednesday to allow companies to register to provide goods and services needed to respond to COVID-19, he said during a teleconference. They're looking for everything from N95 masks and the reagents used in testing for the virus to nursing and IT services, security guards and pet care, said Friesen.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen called on businesses and individuals who want to help with the COVID-19 pandemic response to sign up online.

An online portal opened Wednesday to allow companies to register to provide goods and services needed to respond to COVID-19, he said during a teleconference. They're looking for everything from N95 masks and the reagents used in testing for the virus to nursing and IT services, security guards and pet care, said Friesen.

"We're not out of supplies — we're doing this out of an abundance of caution," he said. The online portal will remove barriers to companies so the province can more quickly procure supplies and services to prepare for the pandemic as infections rates rise, he said.

Supplies purchased through a $35.2-million bulk buy of personal protective equipment with other provinces are starting to arrive in Manitoba, Friesen said, but more is needed. An additional 16 ventilators have been ordered and are on their way after after the province recently purchased 27 new ventilators. The search has "intensified" for 10 chest compression systems to be distributed across the province, he said. A submission form is available at gov.mb.ca

The Manitoba government also announced a new tariff to cover virtual visits to doctors. The fee-for-service is the same amount as the tariff paid for a doctor to see a patient in their office so there is no negative consequence to the provider for seeing a patient remotely by telephone or online, said Friesen.

The province has enlisted the help of Dynacare — the private lab company that provides testing services to the province — to phone Manitobans who've tested negative for COVID-19 and have been waiting for their test results. The company is expected to be helping with those calls within days, Friesen said.

While officials were preparing for a jump in numbers, Roussin said "it's too early to tell," how to interpret the one-day increase. He noted that in recent days, there have been either no new cases or only a single new case to report.

The new coronavirus cases include men and women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.

"The age range that we see is to be expected," Roussin said.

While investigations are still underway, the new cases are believed to involve either returning travellers or their contacts.

He said he has no evidence yet of any "pop-up" or community transmission cases that are neither directly or indirectly linked to out-of-province travel.

As the number of positive cases swelled, Manitoba's health minister called on the private sector Wednesday to pitch in to equip the health system for what is looking like a lengthy pandemic battle.

Cameron Friesen called on businesses to help supply such products as hand sanitizer, surgical/procedure masks and N95 respirators, while asking Manitobans to pitch in to provide security, laundry, food, pet care and IT support services.

Meanwhile, neither Friesen nor Roussin could quantify the size of the test-processing backlog for COVID-19 at the provincial lab, when asked by reporters on Wednesday.

"I'm told we are looking to clear the backlog within days, and we should be back to 500 tests a day within days," Friesen said.

“I'm told we are looking to clear the backlog within days, and we should be back to 500 tests a day within days.” – Health Minister Cameron Friesen

Roussin said he had not received any reports on the size of the backlog, describing the process of test requisitions and completions as fluid.

"I received the amount of tests performed, and, of course, the positive tests come to me," he said.

On Tuesday, 352 tests were completed at the lab, although in recent days that number had fallen to between 200 and 250 due to a global shortage of "reagent," the COVID-19 testing material that extracts viral RNA (ribonucleic acid) from the nose swab samples, Roussin said.

He said the lab has since been able to make its own "viral transport medium," to work around the reagent shortage, and it is now ramping up test numbers.

Roussin was unable to say whether the identification of some of the new postive test results may have been delayed due to delays at the lab.

He reiterated that testing is only one of the tools the province has in fighting the coronavirus.

Manitobans can do their part to "interrupt the transmission of this virus," by adopting social distancing and other provincial orders and guidelines, he said.

The province is also looking at further restricting the size of public gatherings, now limited to groups of 50 people or less. (Saskatchewan is restricting groups to 10 people.)

A city woman in her 60s has been admitted to hospital in critical condition, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Wednesday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

A city woman in her 60s has been admitted to hospital in critical condition, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Wednesday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

"These are things that are currently evolving very quickly, and so I would expect news on that in the very near future," Roussin said.

The chief public health officer said he's been concerned about reports of people going to health facilities without disclosing recent visits outside the province. He said it's vital that patients inform health providers so they can take precautions.

"You must be honest about your recent travel," he said. "You will not be denied care but we need to be able to take those precautions if necessary."

So far, health officials say they're not seeing an increase in visits to Winnipeg hospital emergency rooms for respiratory problems.

“You must be honest about your recent travel. You will not be denied care but we need to be able to take those precautions if necessary.” – Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

Roussin was unmoved by calls for the government to release the results of any studies it has done on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths that could occur in Manitoba.

He said the province is using the information for planning purposes, and the numbers themselves are "very prone to misinterpretation."

Asked Wednesday to predict how long Manitobans will be battling the health emergency, Roussin said: "I think we're looking at many, many weeks of this. We're not looking at three weeks from now and we're out of this, for sure."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at 7:37 PM CDT: Updates chart headline

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ABOVE THE FOLD

Larry Kusch and Carol Sanders:

Provincial COVID-19 case count jumps to 35

A city woman in her 60s has been admitted to hospital in critical condition, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Wednesday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Sarah Lawrynuik and Carol Sanders:

Testing questioned as Manitoba COVID-19 cases spike

(Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)</p>
Jesse Klym sent his 500 early years students a 21-day schedule of activities to complete before school is expected to resume on April 13. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
Signs warning customers not to enter if they've been travelling or are symptomatic at the Co-op gas bar in Morris on Wednesday.
Loren Remillard, president & CEO Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters says he is being forced to adjust on the fly like everyone else. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press Files)
Ben and Megan Capili, pictured with daughter Azazel, are lending their ears and offering advice to people finding it challenging to manage the emotional and psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that looms over daily life. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)</p></p>
Small business has been hit especially hard by COVID-19.</p>