For the fourth day in a row, Manitoba reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, making it the longest period without cases since coronavirus first appeared in the province two months ago.
Despite that — and the fact that there have been no new cases in the Winnipeg region since May 8 — “we’re not done with this virus,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer.
He is urging everyone to be “COVID careful” and continue to avoid travel, despite the warm weather that’s moving in. Travelling increases the risk of re-importation of the virus, he said.
“It is important to note that while some gradual lifting of restrictions has begun, significant work to limit the spread of COVID-19 must continue,” he said. “Our message to the majority of Manitobans now is not ‘stay home,’ it’s ‘stay safe.'”
Travel is not permitted from southern Manitoba to areas, including campgrounds, north of the 53rd parallel, which is essentially anywhere north of the northern end of Lake Winnipeg.
“Public health is also advising people to remain within, or close to, their home communities. This includes limiting travel, even within Manitoba and neighbouring jurisdictions, to essential trips only,” Roussin said, adding that no restrictions are being lifted at this time.
Premier Brian Pallister had said at the end of April — when he announced Phase 1 of the reopening strategy — that the size limit for gatherings could be increased from 10 to 25 in mid-May, if the province’s COVID-19 numbers remained low.
On Friday, Roussin said it’s just not the right time yet — but that could change soon.
“We definitely said that mid-May we were going to look at our numbers and really consider that, and that’s what we’re doing right now,” he said. “Certainly, if things continue the way they are, coming for Phase 2 on June 1 we’ll certainly be increasing that group size.
“Is it possible to increase that group size before June 1? We’re looking at that.”
But right now, the province is just one incubation period (two weeks) into Phase 1 so “it’s too early to put too much weight on these low numbers,” Roussin said. “We will look to further loosen public health restrictions as we get closer to June.”
Overall, there have been 289 total cases in total since the first ones in the province were reported in March. Of those, 254 people have recovered and there are 28 active cases. Three people are in hospital, one of those in intensive care.
Roussin also noted there have been no positive cases in any First Nations communities in Manitoba, although 16 Indigenous people living off-reserve have tested positive, including 14 in Winnipeg.
Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, noted that one of the positive cases in the past week was a health-care worker in the Prairie Mountain Health Region. The case was not linked to the cluster at a Brandon trucking company.
That puts the total number of health-care workers who have tested positive for the virus at 26. All of the workers except the latest one have recovered and returned to work.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | May 15, 2020:
She reminded the public that they no longer need to call Health Links to get a referral for a COVID-19 test. Anyone with symptoms can go directly to a test site.
Many community testing sites will remain open as regularly scheduled this Saturday and Sunday, but for Victoria Day Monday, some will be closed.
The Sergeant Tommy Prince Place testing site and assessment clinic in Winnipeg will be open, as will the Bison Drive drive-thru site. Testing locations in Winkler and Selkirk will also be open.
All other locations throughout the province will be closed on Monday and reopen on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Manitoba government has extended the province’s state of emergency for another 30 days. It takes effect at 4 p.m. Sunday.
The state of emergency facilitates a number of emergency measures, such as bans on large public gatherings and ordering businesses closed. It was first declared March 20 and further extended on April 20.
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