Manitoba makes schools in Steinbach region hit by COVID-19 go online only

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is closing schools in an area southeast of Winnipeg where COVID-19 numbers have spiked.

The Hanover School Division, the largest rural division in the province, will move to remote learning on Tuesday.

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"This action is taken as a preventive safety measure in response to the increased test positivity rate in Steinbach and the RM (Rural Municipality) of Hanover," said an announcement on the division's website Friday night.

In the division's largest community, Steinbach, 40 per cent of people tested over the last 10 days have COVID-19. The city of 16,000 is seeing 30 to 40 positive test results each day.

"When you're looking at something like 40 per cent, we just know this is a very concerning number and we need things to change in that area right now," Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said earlier in the day.

Steinbach was the site of an anti-mask rally last weekend, although many attendees came from other communities. Roussin said there was no direct link between the event and the rising numbers.

The numbers in the region have been rising for weeks, he added. Last Friday, emergency room nurses at the Steinbach hospital reported they had to triage patients in their cars because there was no room inside.

There was other evidence of the growing pandemic in Manitoba Friday. Roussin said a baby was in hospital with COVID-19. There were nine new deaths, including a man in his '20s from Winnipeg — the youngest person to die of the illness in the province to date.

There were 437 new cases, which meant Manitoba continued to have the highest per-capita rate in the country of new infections.

On Thursday night, a Winnipeg nursing home called in paramedics and asked relatives of residents to come and sit by their bedsides and monitor them for any change in condition. Half of the 81 residents had tested positive for COVID-19.

"We are struggling with staffing as many staff are off sick, reached capacity with picking up shifts, are COVID-19 positive themselves, etc.," read a note posted by chief executive officer Marcy-Lynn Larner on the Facebook page of Golden Links Lodge.

"We are asking the primary caregiver for each resident to consider coming into our home to help care for your loved one. There is risk involved with this and we know that."

To try to turn the pandemic tide, the Manitoba government has imposed a series of tightening rules. The latest measures took effect Friday. They forbid retailers from selling non-essential goods in-store and force them to operate at reduced capacity.

Public gatherings are limited to five people outdoors. People cannot have visitors in their homes except for services such as health care and child care. People who live alone are allowed one visitor for socializing.

Roussin said the rules should start to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in the coming days, but he chided people who continue to go out for non-essential reasons. He said he sees a big difference from the spring, when people took care to stay home.

"I remember driving to work (in the spring) and the streets were empty ... it was quiet, kind of a surreal feeling at that time," Roussin said.

"Driving to work today, the streets were full."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2020.

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