Manitoba is expanding COVID-19 testing to include symptomatic first responders, such as firefighters, police and paramedics, the province’s top doctor announced Thursday.
“This is part of our planned expansion criteria. We’re trying to always test those who are likely most at risk of contact,” Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said in a press conference Thursday.
“If we open it up to anyone, we risk overrunning the lab by testing low-risk people and missing the high-risk ones. So we’re expanding slowly.”
Three new cases of the virus were also announced, bringing the total number of presumed and confirmed positive cases of the disease in the province to 224.
“These last few days have seen relatively low new cases being reported. I do not want Manitobans to interpret this [as meaning] that our risk is now lower. This is too early to make these determinations, and we need to keep our guards up,” Roussin said.
“Our efforts are likely showing some benefits here. But now is not the time to lift them.”
There are currently 145 active cases of COVID-19 — those where people are still experiencing symptoms of the illness — in Manitoba, said Roussin.
Eleven people are in hospital with the illness, including five in intensive care.
Seventy-six people have recovered from the illness and three people have died.
On Wednesday, 551 tests were done at the Cadham Provincial Lab, bringing the total completed tests to 15,259.
Accessing personal protective equipment for health-care workers is still a challenge, given border closures and distribution disruptions, said Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa.
The province is working with more than 600 vendors to secure an inventory of face masks, gowns and gloves, she said at Thursday’s news conference, but more is needed.
Siragusa says she isn’t able to give a firm date when the equipment will arrive in Manitoba.
“As soon as possible, we’re going to get everything everyone needs out,” she said.
Roussin also spoke Thursday about enforcement of public health orders, noting a Brandon tattoo shop that was still open despite a public health order was handed an emergency health hazard order.
A fine wasn’t issued, but if the shop violates the order, it will face stringent penalties, he said.
Roussin says people should abide by public health orders, rather than operating as normal until they’re reprimanded.
“We can’t police everything.… No Manitoban should wait to see if an order applies to them,” Roussin says.
Siragusa says a new COVID-19 case contact centre is now up and running at Deer Lodge in Winnipeg, which is helping to do contact tracing — the process through which the spread of the virus is tracked — and getting in touch with people across the province.
A number of Red River College students and 15 medical residents are volunteering there, and are physically distanced while they work.
Their help means public health officials can focus on contact investigations, she said.
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