Northern Manitoba continues to see multiple COVID-19 outbreaks and high test positivity

The recent trend of Northern Manitoba accounting for the majority of new COVID-19 cases in the province continued Jan. 25, with 58 new northern cases of the virus among 113 new cases overall.

Most of the new northern cases – 33 – were in the Island Lake health district, which now has nearly 700 active cases of the virus.

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“That is an area where we’re seeing a lot of transmission,” said chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin at a press conference on Monday. “There’s a lot of work from all levels to address that through that public health approach. We’re really concerned with the level of transmission that’s happening right now."

Northern health districts with single-digit increases since Sunday included Cross Lake/Pimicikamak, Gillam/Fox Lake, The Pas/Opaskwyak Cree Nation/Kelsey, Bunibonibee/Oxford House/Manto Sipi/God’s River/God’s Lake, Grand Rapids/Misipawistik/Easterville/Chemawawin/Moose Lake, Shamattawa/York Factory/Tataskewyak/Split Lake and Thompson/Mystery Lake. With 98 active cases and 474 since the pandemic began, the Thompson/Mystery Lake health district has now had the second-most total cases of any health district in the north.

“Right now the test positivity is quite high in the north,” said Roussin. “We see outbreaks in many areas throughout the north. It may certainly be from some sort of travel and back into the community and then, just like anywhere else, when we see outbreaks it’s caused by gatherings, larger gatherings and then we see a large amount of contacts. A certain amount of those contacts become cases. It’s the nature of this virus. The more we gather the more spread we’re going to have.”

The north passed 3,500 total cases of the virus since the pandemic began with the new cases announced Monday, and about half of them are officially considered active, though the actual number of active cases both in the region and throughout the province is likely lower.

“The active case count is a surveillance tool," Roussin said. “There can be a discrepancy between the actual active cases and the reported ones. Most people are focused now on contact tracing and finding cases rather than removing people off of our surveillance list.”

Roussin also addressed the fact that some northern communities are lobbying for restrictions to be lifted on a community-by-community basis rather than having a blanket approach for the whole north.

“In the region in the north where we see the most test positivity we had to keep those restrictions in place and of course there’s going to be sectors, there’s going to be individuals, there’s going to be communities within there that feel that they should open but it’s very challenging to write these orders at a much more targeted approach than at the regional level. We’ll continue to review it and we’ll continue our public health approach to try to bring down those numbers in the northern region so that we can all loosen some of these restrictions.”

Across Manitoba, there are 145 people in hospital with active COVID-19 infections and 127 whose infections are no longer considered active. Of those, 23 with active infections and 13 who are no longer infectious are receiving intensive care. Forty-four northerners are in hospital due to the virus, all but three of them with active infections. Five of those northern patients are in intensive care.

Five deaths due to COVID-19 were announced Jan. 25, bringing the total number who have died from the virus in Manitoba to 804.

The provincial five-day test positivity rate was 10.8 per cent on Monday.

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