The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 reported in Manitoba is beginning to stabilize and decline but the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) is seeing a surge related to outbreaks in various communities.
Jan. 11 was the fifth straight day that more than a quarter of new cases of the virus reported by the province were from the north. Over that time span, 149 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the NRHA.
Several northern health districts saw significant rises in the number of cases of the virus since Friday, including the Lynn Lake/Marcel Colomb First Nation/South Indian Lake, Granville Lake/Leaf Rapids district, where there are now 63 active cases, up by about 40 since Jan. 8, driven mostly by an outbreak in the town of Lynn Lake.
“When you’re in a remote or isolated community transmission can take place rather quickly,” said chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin at Monday’s COVID-19 update. “Once we see, get concern of an outbreak then we bring up resources and do much more testing in that area so we end up finding a lot of cases quite quickly which is what we want to do because when you isolate those people you can do contact tracing. A lot of times when we see a very quick doubling it’s because of the work of the teams on the ground to rapidly find cases.”
The reason for the current high number of cases in the north includes proactive work to find them and the living conditions in some communities.
“We know the challenges in remote isolated communities with crowding, sometimes difficulty to be able to isolate so we knew from the beginning there’s a real susceptibility in these communities should the virus be introduced and we’re seeing some of that right now,” Roussin said. “There’s a lot of work being done to identify cases, to isolate contacts and to ensure people have access to health care.”
About 1,152 cases of COVID-19 are considered active in the north right now, but the actual number is smaller.
“The focus right now is on case identification, contact tracing and isolation rather than closing down the numbers of people who have been recovered,” said Roussin.
Other northern health districts that saw double-digit jumps in the number of COVID-19 cases over the weekend include the Island Lake area, where the number of cases went up by 27, and Thompson, where it rose by 22 over three days.
There was also another death from the NRHA reported on Monday, a man in his 60s, who is the 24th northerner to die from the virus. Two other deaths were also reported in the province, bringing the total so far to 741.
Across Manitoba, 133 new cases of the virus were reported Jan. 11, 34 of them in the the north. There are 316 people in hospital who have or had COVID-19, 37 of them in intensive care and 23 of those on ventilators. There are 22 northern residents hospitalized due to the virus, three of whom are in intensive care.
Roussin said public health restrictions had to be extended last Friday because public health officials are seeing evidence of significant gathering over the holidays. There have been 538 confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to gatherings since Dec. 25 with a total of almost 2,900 contacts, some of whom attended get-togethers of more than 20 people.
“This is really why we needed to extend the restrictions we had in place,” said Roussin.
Despite people having gathered and a possible spike in case numbers that may cause, Roussin said he expects that students in Grade 7 and up will be able to start attending school in person starting Jan. 18.
“Our numbers are better than they were in November and December when we had the kids back in school,” Roussin said. “There’s so much benefit having the kids in school.”
The chief public health officer also said that getting vaccinated as soon as you’re eligible will hasten the end of the pandemic.
“If we’re going to get out of this pandemic we need the majority of Manitobans to get this vaccine,” he said.