Manitoba health officials reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and said the province is seeing early indications of community transmission.
The new lab-confirmed and probable cases reported Monday are comprised of 11 people in the Prairie Mountain Health region and five people in southern Manitoba. They bring the province’s total of known cases identified since March to 558.
As of Monday six people are in hospital, including three on intensive care. Of the 558 known infections, 196 cases are still active, while 354 people have recovered. Eight people have died.
Like the 35 new cases reported Sunday, health officials said many of the cases reported Monday appear linked to known clusters in the Southern Health health region and the city of Brandon or are close contacts of a previously announced case, the province said there may be a small number of cases of unknown acquisition in those areas.
Manitoba’s chief provincial officer of health, Dr. Brent Roussin, said Monday the cluster of cases in Brandon has grown to 64 cases, and added province is now seeing the early stages of community transmission.
“There are small numbers of cases with unknown acquisition, which we would determine to be community-based transmission,” he said.
Roussin has previously said the cases in Brandon are all linked to one person who returned to the western Manitoba city from eastern Canada and did not properly self-isolate.
An outbreak of cases at the Brandon Maple Leaf Foods plant continues, Roussin said, with four more cases identified there Monday.
Maple Leaf Foods says 23 employees at the plant have tested positive for COVID-19.
While the union representing workers at the plant has called for its closure, Maple Leaf has so far decided against the idea.
On Monday Roussin said the latest cases from the plant are self-isolating, and contact tracing is underway to identify close contacts. He said there is no evidence of transmission within the plant.
“The company is going beyond public health recommendations and is having a larger number of workers self-isolating than what was recommending by public health,” he said. “In addition, many other protocols have been put in place, including workers being cohorted.”
A handful of restaurants in Brandon, including a Tim Hortons and a McDonald’s, have also closed after employees tested positive for the virus.
Health officials said 1,365 lab tests for COVID-19 in Manitoba Sunday, bringing the total number of tests done for the virus in the province since early February to 103,872. Manitoba’s five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate was at 1.59 per cent as of Monday.
Roussin said Monday recent data is showing the best time to get tested for COVID-19 is 24 hours after symptoms show.
The advice comes as long lines were reported Monday at the testing site in Brandon, something Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the province is aware of. He said there could be a second site opening at Keystone Centre in Brandon as early as Tuesday.
Manitoba had gone nearly half the month of July without reporting a single new case of the virus. But that streak ended July 14 when five new cases were identified. Since then 228 new cases have been reported in Manitoba.
The increasing case counts follow the province’s latest relaxing of provincial health rules around the virus which kicked in July 25.
Under the Phase 4 of reopening casinos, cinemas and theatres were allowed to reopen 30 per cent capacity. They followed previous loosening of restrictions which included allowing restaurants and bars to reopen with restrictions and the lifting of mandatory quarantine rules for travellers arriving in Manitoba from western provinces.
Roussin said going forward, if restrictions are once again needed, the province would likely look at using a more “surgical” approach, using regional restrictions instead of widespread closures.
He said the province looking at releasing more details on certain indicators that would prompt rollbacks of loosened restrictions in the coming weeks.
Friesen also said Monday he expects the province will be able to identify cases in more detail — not just by health authorities — by the end of the week.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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