Public health officials announced late Sunday afternoon an additional probable case of COVID-19 had been identified, bringing the number of lab-confirmed positive and probable positive cases in Manitoba to 20.
Case 20, involving a man in his 40s who lives in Winnipeg, is related to travel, the province said.
Earlier Sunday, Manitoba’s top public health official advised against non-essential travel outside Manitoba, including to another province, after confirming that one case is connected to a trip to B.C.
Dr. Brent Roussin said Sunday the majority of the cases are connected to travel to Europe, Asia and the United States, but one case has been linked to inter-provincial travel.
Of the 20 probable and confirmed cases, one probable case’s origin is still under investigation, Roussin said.
He reminded people returning from travel, including via land border from the U.S. — and by vehicle, to self-isolate for 14 days. He said that includes not going out to shop for food.
He said with students now out of school for a three-week break, due to the virus, parents should refrain from making playdates for their children.
About 3,600 people have gone to a screening site since March 9, after being referred by Health Links. Not everyone was tested for the virus.
Roussin repeated that people who do not have symptoms should not seek testing.
On Saturday, 2,300 calls were made to Health Links; the average wait time was 47 minutes.
Lanette Siragusa of Shared Health said: "We feel well-prepared.. We need to get through this together."
Saturday news conference
On Saturday, Manitoba reported two cases of the virus: a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 30s, both of Winnipeg. That brought the total number of probable and confirmed cases in the province to 19.
Both cases are believed to be related to travel.
Roussin said Saturday that although the number of cases had increased — as was expected because testing had ramped up — there is no evidence of community transmission in the province.
Of the 19 cases, only one person had been admitted to hospital; that person remains in stable condition, Roussin said.
Roussin was firm that Manitobans must follow public health orders to help keep the situation under control.
"Now is the time to act," Roussin said. "It’s not business as usual."
Siragusa also called attention to Grade 7 and 8 students at Brandon’s King George School, who earlier in the week sent cards to health-care workers across the province thanking them for their work to respond. "It’s a small gesture from the public, but it’s these kinds of gestures that inspire frontline staff working long hours to keep going," she said.
On Friday, the Manitoba government declared a provincewide state of emergency, announcing the potential imposition of fines for violation of social-distancing recommendations.
Currently, orders include restricting any public gathering — including faith-based events — to fewer than 50 people; requiring retailers to ensure separation of at least two metres between patrons at their facilities; limiting hospitality premises like restaurants or theatres to 50 people or half of total capacity, whichever is less; and closing immediately bingo and gaming centres, as well as gyms and fitness facilities.
As those facilities close up, the province is opening more testing facilities, where tests for the virus can be administered to people who require testing according to HealthLinks, which received 2,200 calls Friday with an average wait time of 49 minutes; earlier in the week, wait times reached as high as two hours, Siragusa said.
All of the 300 tests administered Friday came back negative, Roussin said. More negative results came after tests administered overnight, he said.
In addition to the testing facilities opened last week, on Saturday the province opened Winnipeg’s first drive-through testing facility at the Manitoba Public Insurance service centre on Bison Drive. Siragusa emphasized these testing facilities require referrals. Those who don’t have a referral can’t show up and get tested.
People who should ask about getting tested are those who’ve returned from international travel and developed symptoms related to COVID-19, Roussin said. Anyone returning to the province from an international locale is advised to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether they have any symptoms.
As of Saturday, the province had tested more than 3,300 samples at the Cadham Provincial Laboratory, Roussin said, and lab workers are essentially working around the clock to keep up with the demand. Siragusa said more than 3,400 people visited the province’s community area testing sites, including 403 on Friday.
In Steinbach, where a drive-thru test facility was set up, 54 people visited on Friday. And HealthLinks has introduced an interactive voice response screening tool online. HealthLinks’ online assessment tool had 20,000 interactions Friday, and over 200,000 since it launched earlier in the month.
The latest updates on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
For Manitobans who don’t require testing or vital services, the recommendation is to stay home. "Stay home if you’re sick, stay home if you can," Dr. Roussin said.
As it stands, the province’s public health order doesn’t yet apply to workplaces, he added, though that could be subject to change. In the meantime, Roussin said he recommends employers evaluate best practices, discourage large gatherings and encourage remote work if possible.
Asked why the order doesn’t apply to businesses, Roussin said there were several considerations in play, including the potential of widespread job losses.
Both Siragusa and Dr. Roussin emphasized the importance of the public getting their information from reliable sources, and encouraged Manitobans to be engaged and to take precautions seriously.
"We will get through this together," Siragusa said.
Ben Waldman Reporter
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
While shopping centres, retail businesses, pharmacies and gas stations can remain open, they must ensure proper separation between customers. Here is a list of some of the rules imposed under the state of emergency in Manitoba:
— Gatherings must be limited to no more than 50 people (includes faith-based services, weddings and funerals)
— “Hospitality premises" where food or alcohol is served, movie theatres and places featuring live performances must limit crowds to 50 people or 50 per cent of their capacity: whichever is less
— Licensed child-care centres remain closed till April 10
— Visitor access at Manitoba hospitals has been suspended, with exceptions for compassionate reasons made on a case-by-case basis; (for pediatric patients, one parent or guardian will be allowed to visit at a time following screening)
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Updated on Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 6:08 PM CDT: Updates for second new case, bringing Manitoba's COVID-19 total to 19
10:46 PM: Edited
March 22, 2020 at 11:26 AM: Adds Sunday news conference details