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Entire households now need to quarantine following a single COVID-19 exposure, as Manitoba public health officials step up efforts to prevent more contagious variants from seeping into the community.

"As we are doing our cautious reopening... which means we’re decreasing public health measures in one side of things, then we need to increase our public health measures in other aspects," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday.

"And that’s why aggressive case and contact management will become more and more important as we slowly reopen Manitoba."

On the heels of three new cases of the more contagious U.K. novel coronavirus variant reported Friday in Manitoba, Roussin said the province has changed its definition of a close contact.

People will now have to self-isolate for 14 days, if they have 10 minutes of close, prolonged contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. The change shaves five minutes off the previous standard of 15.

Everyone that person lives with must also isolate for at least 10 days, when the contact should be tested for COVID-19, if symptoms have not already developed. The close contact must complete 14 days of isolation.

If you live with someone confirmed to have COVID-19, public health will now automatically consider you to be a close contact, Roussin said. The isolation period for people in this situation could be as long as 24 days, based on public health direction, and to account for the time required to confirm variants of concern.

“To continue moving forward with our cautious approach, our slow reopening, we need to prevent the introduction and the widespread transmission of the variants of concern,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

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“To continue moving forward with our cautious approach, our slow reopening, we need to prevent the introduction and the widespread transmission of the variants of concern,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

"To continue moving forward with our cautious approach, our slow reopening, we need to prevent the introduction and the widespread transmission of the variants of concern," Roussin said.

"We need to ensure we’re aggressively managing cases and contacts that we do identify to ensure that as we are loosening our restrictions, which means there’s going to be more and more interaction, we need to do whatever we can (so) that interaction isn’t involving cases."

The province's top doctor said he expects the change to increase the number of contacts each case will report and acknowledged many more people will be ordered to self-isolate than have been required to do so in the past.

To handle the additional case load, Roussin said the province’s contact tracing and case management capabilities have been revised and enhanced from the fall, though he did not have specifics to provide Monday.

Currently, the province can reach the majority of cases within 24 hours, with the capacity to handle high triple-digit daily case counts, he said.

On Monday, Manitoba recorded 97 new infections, including 54 in Winnipeg, and a provincial five-day test positivity rate of 5.4 per cent. Two more seniors died from COVID-19, the province reported.

A total of four cases of the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant have been found in Manitoba — and all have been related to international travel. Public health officials say there is no evidence the variant is circulating in the community.

Province expands Safe at Home Manitoba grant 

MANITOBA is increasing its public health advertising with a message to “resist” behaviours that might increase the spread of COVID-19, as the province plans to further reduce pandemic restrictions.

The new awareness campaign also came with an announcement of additional funding for the province’s Safe at Home program.

MANITOBA is increasing its public health advertising with a message to “resist” behaviours that might increase the spread of COVID-19, as the province plans to further reduce pandemic restrictions.

The new awareness campaign also came with an announcement of additional funding for the province’s Safe at Home program.

Launched last fall, the program provides grants to Manitoba organizations, municipalities, businesses and artists to provide “free, inclusive programming such as livestreaming of the performing arts, at-home fitness, cooking classes, art programs for children, and resources for seniors,” according to the province.

In total, the province has spent $5 million on the program, increasing its initial spend of $3 million. More than 300 projects have received a one-time grant.

The province also revealed new radio and television advertising that reinforces the need for people to stay at home, social distance, use delivery services, wear face masks, socialize virtually, and also tells Manitobans “don’t quit now.”

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said while the province is moving forward with its gradual reopening of the economy, the more time people spend at home, the safer they will be, adding COVID-19 continues to pose a risk to the community.

“When we leave home, we have to be able to focus on those fundamentals,” Roussin said. “The messaging is still a good one: it’s stay home, stay safe to reinforce that when you’re out, those fundamentals are critical and they’re going to be critical for the foreseeable future.”

A complete list of free programming available through the Safe at Home program can be found at www.safeathomemb.ca.

On average, Roussin said new COVID-19 cases are reporting about four close contacts each, and with the exception of outbreaks in remote and isolated communities, community transmission of the virus is on the decline.

Meanwhile, the province’s case counts are trending along the "second-to-best" scenario for pandemic modelling, he said. However, the province has yet to make its latest pandemic projections public.

"If we stayed on these lines, we’ll continue to see a downward trend. As we loosen things, as we get less and less adherence, then we start slipping into the other scenarios," Roussin said.

"Our case numbers for the most part have plateaued," he said. "We see some early indicators of possible, slowly climbing numbers, which we expect as we loosen restrictions, but it’s just another reason why we’re going to get more aggressive with our case and contact management."

The next set of public health orders are being deliberated, and tough self-isolation requirements are needed as restrictions are eased, Roussin said.

Current public health orders expire March 5.

The province did not announce any new or enhanced economic and social support programs to help Manitobans adhere to the new, more rigid self-isolation measures.

However, Premier Brian Pallister did not dismiss offering additional support in the future, above what is currently available through the federal government.

"No amount of programs is going to make up for the sacrifices of Canadians during this pandemic and we all know that," Pallister said Monday. "I wouldn't rule it out."

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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