Manitoba’s top doctor says he’s using new powers to crack down on the spread of COVID-19 “before things get out of hand” in the southwestern part of the province.
Starting Monday, gathering sizes will be restricted to 10 and face masks will be mandatory in public places in the Prairie Mountain Health region, Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference Thursday.
The restrictions mark the first widespread use of Manitoba’s colour-coded pandemic response system, which was unveiled on Wednesday and allows the province to bring in rules that target specific regions, communities or industries.
The Prairie Mountain region will return to measures that haven’t been in place in Manitoba since the early months of the pandemic.
More clusters, a higher test positivity rate and a number of large potential exposures at beaches and parks in the region led to the decision to raise the region’s response level to orange, or the “restricted” level in the new system, Roussin said.
Some of Manitoba’s recently announced COVID-19 cases have been linked to the kind of large, outdoor events — often with little physical distancing — that will be affected by the new health orders starting Monday, Roussin said.
He repeated that people in the province seem to have lost track of the fundamentals of physical distancing that were previously keeping Manitoba’s caseload low.
“It’s easy to see why. It’s only human, that we’ve been through a lot — challenging times — and it’s a beautiful Manitoba summer, and people want to get out and do things and see their friends and family,” he said.
“But we know that this is the result, [and] that this virus is spread from close, prolonged contact, and so we need to increase that level of restriction right now.”
The Prairie Mountain Health region covers a large part of southwestern Manitoba, including Brandon, the province’s second-largest city.
It also includes the Dauphin, Porcupine Mountain, Duck Mountain, Riding Mountain, Agassiz Mountain, Asessippi, Little Saskatchewan, Whitemud, Souris River, Turtle Mountain and Spruce Woods health districts, according to the province’s online COVID-19 data portal.
WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin on why new rules were needed in southwestern Manitoba:
The restrictions on group sizes will apply to events such as weddings and funerals, but not to businesses or religious spaces, Roussin said. Those places are already covered under the province’s reopening plans, and are not the types of sites currently seeing COVID-19 spread, he said.
Meanwhile, the mask requirement will apply to all gatherings — both indoors and outdoors — though there will still be exceptions for medical reasons. More details on the specifics of the new public health orders will come over the next few days, Roussin said.
Those rules will stay in place for at least two weeks, which is the length of the virus’s estimated incubation period. It’s more likely they will stay for at least two incubation periods, he said.
Most new cases in Prairie Mountain area
Thirty-three new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Manitoba on Thursday, including 17 in the Prairie Mountain Health region.
The new cases in Prairie Mountain include a boy under 10, and two patients between the ages 10 to 19, the province said in a news bulletin. The other new cases in the region are one man in his 20s; a woman and three men in their 30s; five women and three men in their 40s; and one man in his 50s.
A COVID-19 cluster in Brandon has now reached 66 known cases, Roussin said.
At the city’s Maple Leaf Food pork processing plant, 61 employees have tested positive for the new coronavirus, he said. Of those, 21 of those are also part of the 66-case Brandon cluster.
The province is now testing entire cohorts at Maple Leaf if an employee is exposed to the virus, Roussin said.
While Brandon has some of the province’s highest COVID-19 numbers, many of the gatherings that helped spread the virus happened outside the city, Roussin said, which is why the new rules apply to the entire health region.
The Southern Health region reported 10 new cases Thursday: two men in their 20s; a man in his 30s; a woman and a man in their 50s; two women and a man in their 60s; a man in his 70s; and a woman in her 80s.
The remaining six new cases are in the Winnipeg health region: a woman and two men in their 30s; a man in his 40s; and a woman and a man in their 50s, the bulletin said.
Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate, a rolling average of the COVID-19 tests that come back positive, jumped to 1.9 per cent on Thursday from 1.6 per cent on Wednesday.
As of this week, roughly 19 per cent of Manitoba’s COVID-19 cases are considered community spread, though Roussin said that number is likely an overestimation since contact tracers are still working to find links for some cases.
2 more possible exposures
Thursday’s new cases brought the province’s active caseload to 247, and the total cases since the start of the pandemic to 796.
To date, 537 people in Manitoba have recovered from COVID-19.
The number of people with COVID-19 in the province’s hospitals was not updated on Thursday because of a technical issue, Roussin said.
On Wednesday, there were six people in hospital, including two in intensive care.
Public health officials also announced two more possible COVID-19 exposures that happened in the province on Aug. 8. One was at Manipogo Provincial Park, located off Highway 276 on Lake Manitoba, and the other was at a soccer field at 930 First St. in Brandon.
The risk of transmission is considered low, but the information is being provided to help people assess their own risk, the bulletin said.
On Wednesday, officials announced the 12th death in Manitoba linked to the new coronavirus. It was the fourth fatality connected with COVID-19 reported in the province in less than a week: two were announced on Tuesday and one on Saturday. Before that, Manitoba had not recorded a death linked to the illness since mid July.
Premier Brian Pallister also announced Wednesday that face masks will be mandatory in Manitoba schools for students from Grades 4 to 12, taking what was previously only a strong recommendation one step further. Masks will now be required for students in those grades wherever physical distancing isn’t possible.
On Wednesday, 1,596 more COVID-19 tests were completed in Manitoba, bringing the total number done since early February to 119,210.
WATCH | Full COVID-19 news conference | Aug. 20, 2020:
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