16 Manitoba coronavirus cases believed travel-related, health officials still investigating 17th

By | March 18, 2020

The total number of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases in Manitoba has climbed to 17, public health officials announced late Wednesday afternoon, with 16 of the cases believed to be related to travel and one still under investigation.

While people might be alarmed because the number of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba nearly doubled Tuesday — from 8 to 15 — spikes are expected, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said during the daily provincial news conference about coronavirus.

“We’re going to see more cases, and we’re likely going to be seeing community transmission as more and more of this virus is imported here,” he said.

It’s not known when community transmission will begin to show up, Roussin said, because the province has already implemented its mitigation strategy: social distancing.

“We don’t normally recommend the suspension of schools until we see sustained community transmission. We don’t usually recommend social distancing strategies until we see sustained community transmission,” he said.

About 2,900 Manitobans have been tested for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. There have been no hospitalizations nor deaths due to COVID-19 in Manitoba. 

If the situation in the province gets severe, stricter social distancing will be needed, Roussin said.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, stresses the importance of social distancing to fight the pandemic. (John Einarson/CBC)

“This is going to be one of our most important strategies to limit the impact of this virus in our communities,” he said.

“This is not the time to be going out to crowded bars or to restaurants.”

But social distancing does not mean isolating yourself, he said.

“We need to make sure we’re reaching out to our vulnerable groups — ensuring that we’re reaching out to our neighbours and our vulnerable populations,” he said.

“Reach out, help out, and ensure we’re all working together.”

More than 2,100 people have been screened in Manitoba over the past six days for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Manitoba chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said, with 430 people screened Tuesday.

A new testing site opened Wednesday at the Brandon Regional Health Centre. It will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.

More testing sites will open throughout the week, with one to open in Steinbach soon, Siragusa said.

Health Links received nearly 2,100 calls on Tuesday. The average wait time was slightly over two hours, Siragusa said.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | March 18, 2020:

Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Wednesday, March 18, 2020. 45:03

An interactive voice service that was announced Tuesday should be implemented Wednesday and shorten the wait times.

There have been reports of a bug in the Health Links phone line, with callers waiting in the queue mere minutes before suddenly being cut off at 8 a.m.

Siragusa said she is aware of the glitch and someone is working to fix it.

A new online screening tool received nearly 91,000 hits on Tuesday and had another 17,000 as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, Siragusa said.

A problem with the Health Links phone line that disconnects people at 8 a.m. is being worked on, says Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health. (John Einarson/CBC)

She also said breast screening done through Cancer Care Manitoba will be put on hold for two weeks.

“It’s just a temporary measure … just to be safe, and there is that close proximity as well when doing mammograms.”

In the meantime, anyone with concerns about their breasts can self-check.

While many Canadians have cancelled appointments to donate blood, Roussin said Tuesday that it is still safe to donate if you are healthy. He encouraged people to do so because there is a blood shortage.

On Wednesday, Siragusa said there has since been an increase in donation appointments.

She also told a story to highlight the efforts of the province’s medical personnel, and the reaction those efforts are getting.

At the end of the day Tuesday, at an Access centre that saw more than 200 people come in for screening during the day, the patients in the waiting room rose to give the staff a standing ovation.

“It’s a very disruptive time and there’s a lot of uncertainty. But the one thing that keeps us going is just being certain of each other, that we’re all going to contribute in whatever way we can,” said Siragusa.

“Those patients standing up and giving a standing ovation to the staff, I think, was really appreciated and so well received. So I just wanted to… say thank you to the public for hanging in there and staying with us.”

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