As classes continue at schools across the province, nearly 10 per cent of COVID-19 infections reported in Manitoba children and teens last month can’t be traced, provincial data shows.
Meanwhile, a quarter of the public health investigations involving minors have yet to be closed.
According to data provided to the Free Press by the provincial government, of the 9,486 COVID-19 cases reported so far this November, there have been 1,499 infections in people 18 years old or younger.
Of those, 953 (63.6 per cent) are close contacts to a known case. However, 148 (9.8 per cent) are considered community transmission, which means public health investigators can’t trace the infection back to its source.
Investigations into the remaining 398 cases in school-aged people, or 26.6 per cent, are listed as pending in the public health information system, while investigators continue to tease out clues as to where and how the person got sick.
Tara Moriarty, a Toronto-based infectious diseases expert, said it’s concerning to see more than a quarter of public health investigations in the past month remain outstanding.
Not being able to quickly determine how someone got sick with the novel coronavirus, especially in congregate settings, can drive community transmission, Moriarty said. However, it’s unclear from the data whether it’s happening in classrooms in Manitoba, she added.
"They seem to be contact tracing more effectively in that population than others — the community (transmission) or unknown percentage isn’t too bad — but that still is a pretty high caseload, and you could potentially be maintaining the spread of the epidemic in schools," Moriarty said.
"Kids can drive transmission, schools are certainly a really good setting for that, it’s just a question of how much of the epidemic they’re driving," she said. "And, of course, you’re always going to underestimate it because kids are asymptomatic, unless you actually go in and do testing."
On Monday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin reassured families the risk of spreading the disease at school, between peers, teachers and staff, remains low.
On Saturday, the province reported the death of a boy under 10 years of age due to COVID-19.
"Absolutely, a tragic day here in Manitoba. I think everyday when we announce these (deaths) it’s a tragedy to Manitobans and definitely to their loved ones," Roussin said. "When we announce a death of such a youngster, that’s really highlighted."
“Absolutely, a tragic day here in Manitoba. I think everyday when we announce these (deaths) it’s a tragedy to Manitobans and definitely to their loved ones. When we announce a death of such a youngster, that’s really highlighted.” — Dr. Brent Roussin
The province’s top doctor couldn’t say whether the boy was old enough to attend school, but confirmed he did not pick up the virus in a classroom. On Monday, the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team said the boy was First Nations.
"There were underlying conditions that are relevant to that — but again, just like all of our other cases, that doesn’t diminish the loss," Roussin said.
While school-age children and teens continue to get sick with COVID-19, Roussin said there’s little evidence of transmission in the classroom and the province’s schools have not been sites of "super-spreading" events.
"Schools right now are doing a great job of minimizing the transmission of this virus in those settings," he said.
Across all age groups, more than 24 per cent (2,344) of cases are considered community transmission, and 26 per cent still have investigations pending.
On Monday, Roussin said the province’s new automated contact monitoring system began operation and would relieve some pressures on public health nurses and staff assisting contact tracing.
"Right now, we’re reaching a significant amount of people within 24 hours, even more significant within 48 hours, and we just tend to improve that," Roussin said.
Public health officials also reported 11 more deaths and 343 new COVID-19 cases Monday.
The deaths include a man in his 30s and a woman in her 40s, both from Winnipeg. The other nine were in their 70s, 80s and 90s — and all but one of those linked to existing outbreaks at personal care homes and hospitals.
“These people are more than statistics. They are parents and grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters, and now, a child." — Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa
"These people are more than statistics. They are parents and grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters, and now, a child," Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said.
There were 341 COVID-19 patients in hospital in Manitoba, including 43 in intensive care; 31 of 70 patients on ventilators had COVID-19.
Winnipeg’s five-day test positivity rate was 13.7 per cent; provincewide, it was 13.4 per cent.
Of the new cases announced Monday, 207 were in Winnipeg; 53 in the Southern Health region; 46 in Northern Health; 23 in Prairie Mountain; and 23 in Interlake-Eastern.
New outbreaks were declared at Lakeshore General Hospital (Ashern) and West Park Manor care home (Winnipeg).
An outbreak at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley has been declared over, as has an outbreak at Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask generating station site.
— with files from Katie May
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.