October 19, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press



Winnipeg heading in 'wrong direction'

Despite steady rise in COVID cases, province not ready to impose new restrictions

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Winnipeg is going "in the wrong direction" with rising cases of COVID-19, but don’t expect mandatory masks or other pandemic restrictions to be imposed any time soon.

That's the latest message from chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, who on Monday announced two more COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba and 22 new cases of the novel coronavirus, 16 of them in Winnipeg.

That brings Winnipeg's active case count to 284, more than triple the 89 active cases reported in the city on Sept. 1. But Roussin said that’s a small fraction of the cases per capita that were reported in Prairie Mountain health region when restrictions were imposed there last month.

"The trend is in the wrong direction for us right now," Roussin told reporters at a press conference in Winnipeg.

Chart showing active cases of COVID-19 by regional health authority

However, the indicators he said he's watching — active case numbers, the test positivity rate and hospitalizations — are still relatively low. And there’s no one problem to target in Winnipeg with code-orange restrictions as there was in Prairie Mountain, where large gatherings resulted in clusters of cases and an order to wear masks indoors and limit group sizes.

Hookah lounge tied to COVID case

After receiving several hefty fines issued by public health, the 7 Arabian Dreams hookah lounge is now the site of a possible COVID-19 exposure.

After receiving several hefty fines issued by public health, the 7 Arabian Dreams hookah lounge is now the site of a possible COVID-19 exposure.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced Monday that those who were at 7 Arabian Dreams at 775 Corydon Ave. in Winnipeg on Friday from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 12:45 a.m. to 1 a.m. may have been infected.

The hookah lounge has been issued six tickets and fined $15,252 since August. Those tickets resulted from four inspections of the restaurant on Aug. 1, Aug. 27, Sept. 8 and Sept. 10. Each ticket of $2,542 was for failure to comply with the special measures prescribed in the order issued by chief public health officer and allowing the use of hookah on the premises.

Under normal circumstances, some Winnipeg restaurants operate as hookah lounges by offering customers the ability to smoke tobacco-free herbal shisha. The pandemic and public health orders put an end to it.

When asked why the establishment wasn't ordered to close after being fined repeatedly for violating the public health orders, Roussin said that "further enforcement is on the table."

"We're looking at different options with that," said Roussin.

In Winnipeg, the virus is spreading due to a variety of situations, from bars and restaurants to gatherings to people going out when they have symptoms, waiting too long to get tested and putting a strain on contact tracing, Roussin said.

Of the 22 new COVID-19 cases announced by the province Monday, 16 are in the Winnipeg health region, one in the Interlake-Eastern health region, two in Prairie Mountain and three in the Southern Health region.

A woman in her 80s died in hospital after being a resident at the Brandon Regional Health Centre's Assiniboine Building, Roussin said. The care facility remains at critical "red" level because of COVID-19.

A man in his 80s who was a resident of a communal living setting in the Southern Health region also died.

Roussin on Monday reminded Manitobans that their actions can have a major impact in the slowdown or spread of COVID-19. In Winnipeg, a quarter of the cases involve community transmission.

"We note many of these new cases have had a large number of contacts," the public health chief said. "That means we're having additional people exposed to the virus and contact tracing becomes more complex."

That's put a strain on staff, he said.

One recent example involves a person with symptoms who waited several days to get tested after coming into contact with 50 people.

"There are circumstances where people are symptomatic and being out and about, not getting tested for days and days," said Roussin. "It's certainly a challenging time," but not unmanageable, he said. "We're still reaching our contract tracing capacity that we're shooting for right now."

On the weekend, the public was advised of possible COVID-19 exposures at Gordon Bell High School, Munroe Early Childhood Education Centre Preschool on Chalmers Avenue, Cafe La Scala on Corydon Avenue, Local Public Eatery on Garry Street and XXI Lounge on Pembina Highway.

Chart showing the daily and rolling five-day positivity rate for COVID-19 in Manitoba

On Monday, more possible exposures were announced: at Collège Garden City Collegiate and aboard Winnipeg Transit's John Pritchard School Route S412 to John Pritchard School, where Roussin said more positive cases connected to the infected cohort will likely be announced Tuesday but won't affect the school's plans now in place.

Roussin is not ruling out a clampdown on Winnipeg that would impose restrictions on crowd sizes or mandate masks if the indicators keep trending in the wrong direction.

"We're watching these things very closely and we do want to be able to respond when necessary," Roussin said. "Nothing's off the table."

In a telephone conference call with reporters, Premier Brian Pallister said he’d follow Roussin’s advice on mask use. He did not offer a personal opinion on the issue.

Asked about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler’s tweet on the weekend, calling on Pallister to implement a "universal mask mandate," the premier said: "I personally have a ton of affection for Blake Wheeler in the way he plays hockey. I also have a lot of time for people like Blake that have a passion for Manitoba."

But he said for Manitobans to get through the pandemic, they have to respect those "who have been put in a position of trusted leadership, and Brent Roussin’s been put in that position."

"As your premier, I’m going to respect what our experienced public health officials decide… and I’m going to cheer for the Jets and Blake Wheeler."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew, meanwhile, also referenced Wheeler’s tweet, telling reporters that he was "pleasantly surprised" to see the Jets forward weigh in on the issue. "I thought that was a good move — another good example of him showing leadership both on and off the ice."

Kinew, who has pushed for mandating the use of masks in all indoor public spaces, said while Roussin makes recommendations on such initiatives, it’s the premier and cabinet who set the rules.

Roussin didn't discount the views of the premier or the public but said his department decides when to issue health orders like wearing masks.

"We will mandate that when we have indicators to support that," he said, noting that public doesn't have to wait for a mandate to wear a mask.

"If the vast majority want to wear a mask, we don't need a mandate."


— with file from Larry Kusch

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography


Updated on Monday, September 21, 2020 at 7:06 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

9:17 PM: Adds contact tracing graphic

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