The total number of COVID-19 cases in the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) area went up by seven with the addition of newly announced cases on Friday, but the actual number of new active cases according to the provincial government’s online dashboard is eight.
Four new cases were reported in the Thompson/Mystery Lake health district Oct. 23, which went from having 12 active cases and 13 recoveries on Thursday to 15 cases and 14 recoveries today, for a total of 29 cases since the pandemic began back in March.
One new case each was reported among residents of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation/Nelson House, Bay Line, The Pas/Opaskwayak Cree Nation/Kelsey and Lynn/Marcel Colomb First Nation/Leaf/O-Pipon-Na-Piwin (South Indian Lake)/Granville health districts. The Nelson House district also has one new recovery, as does the Lynn/Marcel Colomb Finr Nation/Leaf/O-Pipon-Na-Piwin (South Indian Lake/Granville health district.
The total number of cases from unknown districts was reduced by one, from six to five.
There are 47 active COVID-19 cases in the north right now, with four people in hospital, none of them in intensive care. There have been 76 cases in total since the pandemic began.
NRHA CEO Helga Bryant said at a press conference in Thompson with Mayor Colleen Smook Oct. 22 that neither the testing sites nor the public health system in the north are running out of capacity to deal with more COVID-19 cases in the region if needed.
“We have the capacity at our testing sites to do between 80 and 90 tests a day on average,” she said. “We are quite a bit less than that, around 50 to 60, so we watch that on a daily basis. Last weekend we added a four-hour clinic on Saturday and a four-hour clinic testing site on Sunday. We will do that agin this weekend here in Thompson. It will also be done in the Pas so we can add that surge capacity very quickly and very readily. We have not had substantial waits. If the line’s getting a little bit long, we pull in some extra staff to manage that surge.”
The provincial government announced that testing appointments will now be available at some testing sites including those in Thompson and The Pas by calling 1-855-268-4318 or going online to www.manitoba.ca/covid19/updates/testing.html#appointment. Walk-in testing remains available. COVID-19 tests, excluding waiting time, take about five minutes for adults and 10 minutes for children.
NRHA public health nurses and the medical officers of health Dr. Michael Isaac and Dr. Sarah Lesperance aim to reach all contact of people who test positive for COVID-19 in the north within 24 hours and are assisting Winnipeg with contact investigations as well, said Bryant.
While 94 per cent of people who contract COViD-19 recover at home, Bryant says there is capacity at northern hospitals in Thompson and The Pas for those who need medical treatment. Any patient requiring a ventilator is transported to Winnipeg.
“We don’t have 24/7 respiratory therapy and, as in any time, COVID or not COVID, a person who requires ventilation would be transferred to Winnipeg.”
Smook said that, with orange or restricted level limits on gatherings and business capacity coming into effect in Northern Manitoba on Oct. 26, people need to stay home when they are sick, stay home if they do not need to go out, designate one person from their family to go shopping for essentials and cancel any unnecessary travel.
“We all have our own lane,” she said. “We all have our own jobs to do. It’s up to us as Thompsonites to do our part, for us to stay home, for us to break the chain. And not just Thompsonites. For the north. Any unnecessary travel, even if you supposedly can travel north of 53, should not be done. That goes for outlying communities, surrounding communities. I ask you that you please restrict all travel and look after yourselves at home.”
Bryant said chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin’s decision to move Northern Manitoba and northern schools to the orange level on the provincial Pandemic Response System was made based on the number of new cases in the region and how people are acquiring them.
“This is a protective mechanism to seriously attempt to control COVID,” said Bryant. “COVID is in our power to stop. It doesn’t have wings, it doesn’t have legs, it moves around on us. We really can control this and reducing those gathering sizes, reducing occupancy of businesses is one of the methods of doing that. Personally, we each need to be responsible.”
Thompson’s mayor said people in the city and the north are just now experiencing what other parts of the province did earlier in the pandemic.
“It’s not like this has surprised us coming out of the woodwork,” Smook said. “We just had a very lucky spring and summer. We may have got a little bit lax, just in general. It’s time for us to tighten up again and realize that reality is here.”
Manitoba Keewatinook Okimakank (MKO), which represents 26 First Nations in the north, also urged people to follow guidelines and help lessen the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The new restrictions being put in place should remind citizens in Northern Manitoba to remain vigilant to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee in an Oct. 22 press release. “Continue to practise public health measures and limit your gatherings. We also recommend that Northern residents limit their travel to Winnipeg. This pandemic is a difficult time for everyone as we are all tired of this pandemic. I want to remind people to be kind and support one another. Don’t shame people if they need to go for a test for COVID-19 and don’t spread rumours on social media about people testing positive. Let’s support one another and get through this pandemic together.”
Earlier this week, the provincial government increased fines for breaching public health emergency orders to $1,296 for individuals and $5,000 for corporations. Municipal bylaw officers have also been given the authority to enforce public health orders alongside other agencies such as the RCMP, the Health Protection Unit, Manitoba Conservation and Climate, Workplace Safety and Health and the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority.
Across Manitoba, 163 new cases of COVID-19 were announced Oct. 23, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 3,935. There are 51 people in hospital due to the virus right now, eight of them in intensive care. The 48th death associated with COVID-19 – a man in his 80s in Winnipeg – was announced on Friday.