For the second time in three days, Northern Manitoba saw a double-digit increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the region, with 10 new cases announced Oct. 22.
Five of the new cases are in the Thompson/Mystery Lake health district, which now has a total of 12 active cases and thirteen recovered cases. There were also two new cases from unknown districts, two in The Pas/Opaskwayak Cree Nation/Kelsey health district and one in the Flin Flon/Snow Lake/Sherridon/Cranberry health district.
The total number of active cases in the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) area is now 45 and there are three people from the region currently in hospital, none of them in intensive care. The total number of cases in the north since the pandemic reached Manitoba in March is 69. The current test positivity irate in Northern Manitoba is 4.6 per cent.
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced on Thursday that new public health orders are being put in place for the NRHA and Churchill, effective Oct. 26. These new orders are the same as those recently put in place in the Winnipeg metropolitan region and include reductions in the maximum size of gatherings and limiting restaurants, licensed premises and retail businesses to 50 per cent of the regular capacity. Personal service businesses are limited to 50 per cent of their usual occupancy or one person for each 10 square metres of the premises that is open to the public, whichever is less. Casinos, bingo halls and entertainment facilities with Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act licences that requires them to provide live entertainment must close to the public with the exception of providing food for take out or delivery. Restaurants and licensed premises, theatres, museums, galleries, libraries, personal service businesses, concert halls and fitness facilities are now required to collect contact information from members of the public coming to their locations and keeping those records for 21 days to support contact tracing.
“We’ve seen an increase in cases there, we’ve seen an increase in test positivity, we’ve seen increasing non epi-linked cases, the community-based transmission,” said Roussin, explaining the reasoning behind the decision to move the north to the organe/restricted level under the provincial Pandemic Response System. “We’ve seen cases in vulnerable settings, in some people who are homeless or living in shelters and then of course we know the north is already at risk for transmission of this virus especially in remote and isolated communities …. so it was decided that we should now implement that orange restricted level without further delay.”
Northern schools are also being moved to the restricted level (orange) under the Pandemic Response System effective Oct. 26. Two metres of physical distancing must be ensured to the greatest extent possible, including by removing extra furniture or using other spaces besides classrooms for instruction. Indoor choir and use of wind instruments will not be allowed and all field trips must be postponed or cancelled. Extracurricular activities are only allowed if all distance requirements have been met.Teachers and staff who come into contact with more than one cohort of students, including substitute teachers, will now be required to wear medical-grade disposable masks that have been issued to all schools. Some kindergarten to Grade 8 students may be offered a temporary remote learning option for the duration of the restricted level for schools.
“It’s not really based on what we’re seeing within schools, it’s based on what we’re seeing in the community so if you have a higher rate of community transmission that’s going to lead to higher rates in any setting, including schools,” Roussin said. “We found for the most part when the virus is introduced in a school we haven’t seen much transmission within the school, which again displays a lot of the hard work that our education colleagues have been doing, but we just know we’re going to see more and more cases in the community and so this is a good time to ensure we’re taking even further steps within the schools.”
Four more deaths in Manitoba resulting from COVID-19 were announced by the province Oct. 22, bringing the total so far to 47. Three were people from the Winnipeg region and one was from the Interlake-Eastern health region. One was in his 70s and three were in their 80s. The number of new cases announced province-wide on Thursday was 147.