August 13, 2020

Winnipeg
19° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Close this
Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

Reopening plan wide open to confusion

The Free Press has made this story available free of charge so everyone can access trusted information on the coronavirus.

Support this work by subscribing today

As Manitoba moves to reopen and return to a new normal, there are mounting instances where advice and actions appear to contradict each other, leaving confusion about how residents should behave in the coming weeks.

Manitoba's COVID-19 cases total 279

Four new cases of COVID-19 were announced on Friday by the province's chief public health officer, Brent Roussin.

The latest cases bring the total number of cases in the province to 279. The total number of related deaths remains unchanged at six. As of Friday morning, five individuals were in hospital but no patients were in the intensive care unit with COVID-19.

Four new cases of COVID-19 were announced on Friday by the province's chief public health officer, Brent Roussin.

The latest cases bring the total number of cases in the province to 279. The total number of related deaths remains unchanged at six. As of Friday morning, five individuals were in hospital but no patients were in the intensive care unit with COVID-19.

There are 235 cases listed as recovered from the virus and 38 cases remain active. On Thursday, 689 lab tests were performed, bringing the provincial total to 25,402.

Patients asked about race, ethnicity

Public health nurses in Manitoba are now required to ask those who test positive for COVID-19 about their race, ethnicity and/or Indigenous identity.

The Instructions for Surveillance form issued on April 30 says nurses are required to ask the question, but whether the patient responds is voluntary. Up until Friday, nurses only asked positive COVID-19 patients to identify if they are Indigenous.

"These questions are important to our understanding of the impact of this virus on Manitobans from various backgrounds and will help us identify any disproportionate impact on specific populations or issues with access to services that may exist," Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said Friday, adding it could lead to more support for community organizations that play a role in the local COVID-19 response.

Providing the information is voluntary, and will be handled and stored confidentially, Siragusa said.

Care-home staff restricted to one facility

Public-health orders restricting staff from working in more than one licensed personal care home took effect Friday. The single-site restriction is intended to provide additional protection against the introduction or spread of the virus within long-term care homes. All of Manitoba’s 127 licensed care homes have confirmed readiness, with staff in place, the nursing boss said.

Online access to test results expanded

Starting next week, a secure online portal will allow Manitobans who have tested negative for COVID-19 to more quickly access their test results. When people are tested, they will receive information about how to register and access the results. Users will need a Manitoba Health registration card. A toll-free number will be available early next week to provide results to those without a Manitoba health card or those without Internet access.

Those who test positive will continue to be contacted promptly by public health officials.

— with files from Carol Sanders

For example, the province announced Friday that campsite bookings would resume next week. Provincial parks will follow new cleaning protocols in bathrooms and shared spaces, but they can book to full capacity and trust that campers will only camp with other members of their households. Restrictions on gatherings remain capped at 10 people.

But previously, the province's public health officials had advised against people traveling to their cottages, which was an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to small communities and keep from overextending rural health-care services. On Friday, Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard said the advice to avoid cottages was still largely in effect.

Manitobans can go camping, but are advised against going to their cottages. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitobans can go camping, but are advised against going to their cottages. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"There was the advice given for non-essential travel, that it's not the time to be going up to cottages, and that's still, to a large part, what we're recommending, that if people don't feel that they need to travel, then it's still best to stay in the community. However, if they follow protocols, it is safe to do so, and to limit exposure in smaller communities, and to not be using their emergency services," she said.

Those who take advantage of the opportunity to book campsites would also be asked to self-monitor and not travel if they showed symptoms, Guillemard said, citing mental-health concerns as a key reason the province wanted people to be able to get out of their houses.

Wires are also getting crossed when it comes to advice on when and where it is appropriate (not to mention if it is appropriate) to visit friends and family.

On Monday, restaurant patios will be permitted to reopen subject to lower capacity restrictions than usual, and operators will be expected to disinfect all surfaces between customers. The limit on the number of people who can sit together remains capped at 10.

But the province's chief public health officer, Brent Roussin, said Friday he continued to advise against gathering with people outside of your family unit.

Restaurant patios can open, but brewery patios cannot, according to the province. Will restaurant washrooms be open? (Sasha Sefter / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Restaurant patios can open, but brewery patios cannot, according to the province. Will restaurant washrooms be open? (Sasha Sefter / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"Really, that's not my advice, to go sit at a table of 10 people from different households. That's not public health's advice to do that. Certainly that's tough to write that in an order and have that enforced, but we're gradually opening things up and I think Manitobans get this."

But do they?

Retail stores and malls are permitted to open beginning Monday but on Friday, Roussin said garage sales shouldn't be held. The province isn't considering the reopening of schools, but they are reopening playgrounds and daycares.

What the distinctions are, and where the lines are drawn, is clear as mud.

"I would say every place, right now, is trying to be rational and failing in obvious ways," said Amir Attaran, a professor at the School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa. "This is going to be a crude, messy, imprecise and not always evidence-based (process) because very poor thinking has gone into this ahead of time. Our capacity for public health in this country is dismal, so you should expect a lot of seemingly arbitrary, evidentiary question marks over decisions that are being made."

Nobody should be opening up while there are fundamental questions about the data of the epidemic, said Amir Attaran, a professor at the School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

Nobody should be opening up while there are fundamental questions about the data of the epidemic, said Amir Attaran, a professor at the School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

Attaran said it was "flagrant" that some of these decisions are being made out of the government's own self interest.

But these confusions open the door to a much bigger problem, Attaran said. As provinces announce their haphazard plans to open, he is primarily concerned that outsiders like himself cannot properly adjudicate what is and is not appropriate because not enough epidemiological information is being made public. He wants to see Canadian jurisdictions following the lead of countries such as Norway, which releases daily a full breakdown of the age and gender of those who have tested positive, as well as what the scientific assumptions are that government projections are based on. This information should be transparent and should be the scientific foundation for any government's response, he said.

The Manitoba government has been criticized for withholding available projections about how the disease is forecasted to impact the province. Premier Brian Pallister has dismissed calls for such projections to be made public, calling them a "conjectured guess."

"My concern is that no place — not Alberta, not Saskatchewan, not Manitoba, not Ontario — nobody should be opening up while there are fundamental questions about the data of the epidemic," said Attaran. "That data has to be transparent, the modelling has to be transparent, outsiders need to look at it in order for governments to be able to proceed with caution. The idea that governments, which failed entirely to prepare for this pandemic, have suddenly become masters at pandemic management and are opening up the country at the right, carefully considered time is laughable."

sarah.lawrynuik@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @SarahLawrynuik

Sarah Lawrynuik

Sarah Lawrynuik
Reporter

Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

Read full biography

The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.

To submit a letter:
• fill out the form on this page, or
• email letters@freepress.mb.ca, or
• mail Letters to the Editor, 1355 Mountain Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2X 3B6.

Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.