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With the number of COVID-19 cases exploding in some North American jurisdictions, Manitobans can take comfort the novel coronavirus appears virtually non-existent in the province.
On Monday, Manitoba extended its impressive streak of days without a new case to 13 — zero-for-July — while the number of active cases fell to just one. In a day or two, that could be reduced to none.
The province last reported a death due to the virus — its seventh — on May 5. The last time a patient was in a Manitoba hospital due to COVID-19 was May 22.
Yet, Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, urged Manitobans not to become complacent in the face of this streak of really good news.
"We can't let our guards down. The low numbers does set us up for people to think that we're done with this virus or that this virus is done with us — and I can assure Manitobans that that is not the case," he told a Monday news conference.
Roussin said there is evidence folks are becoming less careful.
"We can't let our guards down. The low numbers does set us up for people to think that we're done with this virus or that this virus is done with us ‐ and I can assure Manitobans that that is not the case." — Dr. Brent Roussin
"We have seen more and more reports of larger (than-permitted) gatherings, of people not adhering to physical distancing," he said, referring to reports of crowds at beaches, parks and some restaurants.
However, Roussin did admit the province is doing better in containing the virus right now than he expected in spring.
"Looking at things back in April or May, we're probably a lot more ahead than I thought we'd be at this point," he said.
Newfoundland and New Brunswick also reported just one active case of the coronavirus Monday. Only Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories had no active cases.
In the country as a whole, there are still 27,503 active COVID-19 cases, including 25,082 in Quebec and 1,454 in Ontario. Neighbouring Saskatchewan has 90.
"We have seen more and more reports of larger (than–permitted) gatherings, of people not adhering to physical distancing."
Roussin hinted there could be a loosening of some of the restrictions on gatherings as a result of the province's performance recently. He said the size of groups allowed outdoors, currently set at 100, may be expanded.
"We don't have a specific date, but that's something that we're working on."
Roussin said the province is also continuing to work with faith-based organizations to see how restrictions may be eased for them. "We're trying to find ways to increase their capacity safely, because we know how important that is," he said.
What the province does not want to do, he said, is to open things up too swiftly and then have to backtrack and reinstall restrictions.
"There's going to be restrictions in place for pretty much any type of business for the foreseeable future, but we're going to look how we can further loosen things up in a safe way," he said.
Asked about the possibility of future Winnipeg Jets' Whiteout outdoor parties downtown or the city being used as a possible hub for CFL games, Roussin was cautious, saying the health of Manitobans was his main priority.
The absence of new COVID-19 cases this month is even more remarkable as the number of tests in recent weeks has averaged around 700 per day. The province can now test up to 2,000 a day.
On Friday, there were 798 laboratory tests conducted; on Saturday, 1,149 tests were performed; on Sunday, a further 573 were done.
Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Shared Health, said provincial planning is now turning to the fall, when flu season could coincide with a new round of COVID-19 cases.
She said one of the government's priorities is to increase the percentage of Manitobans getting vaccinated for influenza this year.
Meanwhile, with an absence of the coronavirus, the occupancy of intensive care beds in Winnipeg is less than 75 per cent. Hospital bed occupancy in the city is below 80 per cent.
Outside Winnipeg, hospital bed occupancy is under 70 per cent, Siragusa said.
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.
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