Brandon families, businesses hunker down again as COVID-19 outbreak grips city

By | August 20, 2020

Some parents and business owners in Brandon aren’t waiting for the province to raise the COVID-19 risk level in the city to take action. 

The southwestern Manitoba city, located about 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg, has been the epicentre of the province’s largest COVID-19 hot spot. As of Wednesday afternoon, the city was dealing with nearly 90 active cases of the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

That has prompted some parents — like Mandy Newfield — to seriously consider whether or not their kids should go back to school in under three weeks.

“It’s stressful,” the mother of three told CBC News on Wednesday. 

Newfield, a single mother, has kids going into grades 4, 5 and 10 in Brandon. Her kids also have special needs and she’s concerned the proper help and protocols won’t be in place. 

She also has wonders about how her two youngest children will tolerate wearing masks all day, after the province announced Wednesday all students and staff from Grade 4 and up will be required to wear masks at school if physical distancing requirements can’t be met. 

For now, Newfield has decided she will home-school her kids, despite the added stress it will put on her family. 

“You’ve got three kids in three different areas and that’s hard when you’re a single parent,” she said. “I can’t ask my mom to help me because she works at the hospital and she could be exposed to other people who are exposed to the virus. 

“They’re stressed, upset because they can’t visit their friends, their teachers, their family,” Newfield said of her children. “They miss birthdays, Easter.” 

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Brandon helped solidify Newfield’s decision. 

She said as cases kept building in the cluster, the less comfortable she was with returning to a more normal summer. 

“I banned my kids from going to the park,” she said, adding she couldn’t be certain physical distancing and proper hand washing would be available, especially if other children and families were around. 

“So it’s not safe for us to go to the park,” she said.

Businesses reintroduce restrictions 

Some members of Brandon’s business community are also rolling back, reinstating restrictions that were previously lifted. 

“I’ve noticed a couple more businesses that have closed as a precaution,” said Spencer Day, president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve seen people close down parts of their business, restrict occupancy and that sort of thing.”

The Chilli Chutney, a restaurant in Brandon’s west end, closed its dining room again due to the outbreak, according to a post on its Facebook page, opting to again offer only take out and delivery. 

The situation in Brandon is being closely watch by Manitoba’s public health officials. Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Wednesday that Brandon’s risk level could be raised to orange, or “restricted,” in the coming days.

The risk level for the entire province is currently at yellow, or “caution,” meaning community transmission of COVID-19 is considered to be at low levels. An orange level, according to Roussin, would be put in place if stronger evidence of community spread starts to emerge. 

The Chili Chutney restaurant in Brandon, Man., has chosen to close its dining room again as a result of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the city. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew questioned on Wednesday why more wasn’t already being done to respond to outbreaks in places like Brandon.

“We have a very serious situation in Brandon, and yet we don’t have any additional precautions being put in place to protect those folks,” he said at a news conference.

Dozens of businesses require masks 

Day said Brandon’s business community is doing all it can to keep safe and open. He said upwards of 80 businesses in the city now require customers to wear masks while shopping, as an example.

“We have a real desire to inch this thing forward to really find what our new normal is and not take any steps backward,” he said. “The first closure back in the middle of March was devastating for a lot of businesses. And there are a lot of business that obviously continue to be hit hard.” 

Newfield said she won’t feel safe sending her kids to school until Brandon is back down to only a handful of active cases, and will be watching closely for any updates on the situation. 

Day said the business community, too, will take things one day at a time. 

“There’s such a desire from our business community to remain open and give everyone a fighting chance to get though this thing that they are taking the right steps,” he said. 

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