Manitoba announced 167 new cases of COVID-19 in the province over the past two days on Feb 16 after not updating numbers on the Louis Riel Day holiday on Monday. Of those, 93 were in the north, including 57 in the Cross Lake/Pimicikamak health district and 25 in the Thompson/Mystery Lake health district.
Following a situation update call with the province on Tuesday, Mayor Colleen Smook said at the recreation and community services committee meeting that there had been 18 new positive tests for the virus in Thompson in the past 24 hours and more than 50 in Cross Lake over the past couple of days.
“We’ve got 84 active cases here [in the Thompson health district] right now.,” she said. “Thompson has been pretty hard hit again so what happens is if if we’re not listening in Thompson, they’re not going to ease our rules so until we get people following our rules here, Thompson will be at the mercy of public health.”
She also said the province had said that possible tests that might have been the United Kingdom variant of the virus that were flagged by initial screening tests in Pauingassi First Nation and Cross Lake were likely not the variant of concern and that the cause of rocketing numbers in Cross Lake was people not following public health orders.
“One positive case had over 200 contacts,” Smook said. “Between three cases they figured they’d have 380 contacts so that is what’s driving it.”
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference that many of the samples flagged as potentially the U.K, variant were from the north and that First Nations where the variant had possibly been detected may have been making that information public to avoid any unnecessary fear or panic.
“Once we start getting these screening-in processes, public health is going to act immediately on it so we’re informing the people who screened in, we’re informing their contacts and so word gets out quite quick. Public health is going to act on anything that screens in as if it’s the variant until proven otherwise but we’re expecting to not see this is the U.K. variant in those communities.”
A marker used by screening tests to identify the U.K. variant is also present in a Manitoba variant of the virus, Roussin said, but that variant is not one of any more concern that the standard virus.
“In this case, a screening test looked for a specific deletion that’s in the U.K. variant,” said Roussin. “It doesn’t define the U.K. variant but it’s in there and what we found was that this deletion happens to also be in this Manitoba variant. We haven’t had any indication that this is a variant of concern. We’ve seen this variant in the past in Manitoba as well so as of right now it does not appear that this is a variant of concern.”
The net increase in provincewide cases on Tuesday was 166 new cases, due to the removal of a previously announced case. Four more deaths due to the virus were also announced, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 875. There were 230 in people in hospital on Tuesday due to COVID-19, 86 of whom have active infections. Thirteen of those with active infections were in intensive care while another 26 who are no longer considered infectious were still in ICU. Twenty-four northerners are in hospital due to the virus, 14 of them with active infections. One northern resident with an active infection and two who are no longer considered infectious are in intensive care.
The provincial government also said Feb. 16 that continued vaccine shortages will prevent the simultaneous operation of the Thompson Vaxport immunization site and the supersite at the Thompson Regional Community Centre for now. About 1,000 people from remote Northern Manitoba communities will be brought to the Vaxport in March for immunizations and improvements are being made to provide a better experience for people who fly or bus in to be vaccinated Once more vaccine is available, both the Thompson sites will operate at the same time.
To date, 69,600 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to Manitoba. About 15,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected this week and another 17,550 next week. Manitoba also expects to receive 6,100 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week.
A total of 56,044 vaccine doses have been administered in Manitoba, including 34,859 first doses and 21,185 second doses. The province says more than two per cent of Manitobans have now received both doses.