Health officials reported 33 new cases of novel coronavirus in Manitoba Thursday and said further public health restrictions — including mandatory mask use in indoor spaces — are being placed on the Prairie Mountain Health region in an effort to stem an ongoing outbreak in the area.
Thursday’s new cases include 17 people in the Prairie Mountain Health region — where Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public officer of health said there are 95 current active cases, the majority of which are in Brandon.
He said those cases include 66 employees at the Maple Leaf pork processing plant in the western Manitoba city.
Roussin said the the Prairie Mountain Health region, which includes Brandon, Dauphin and other communities in much of the western part of the province, is immediately being elevated to the restricted orange level under the province’s new pandemic response system announced Wednesday.
He said said new public health restrictions will be implemented in the area starting Monday and will include limits to gathering sizes to 10 people both indoor and outdoor, and mandatory mask use for indoor and public spaces, as well as at any public gatherings.
“This is a rapid changing situation, it will take some time to facilitate these measures,” he said, adding the reduction does not affect businesses or religious gatherings.
Gathering limits in the rest of the province remain at 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
The province said said more information on the coming restrictions would be forthcoming.
The Opposition New Democrats said the government should have acted sooner.
“We know that the situation has been getting worse there for a while,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said. “If it made sense to do it today, it made sense to put these precautions in place last week.”
The restrictions in the Prairie Mountain region will be in place for at least two weeks, Roussin said, and could last longer.
The province’s new pandemic response plan, which went live on the province’s website Wednesday, uses colour codes so that rules can be applied to specific areas where COVID-19 numbers spike.
Until now, the government has enacted rules province-wide on such things as store openings and size limits for public gatherings.
Yellow — or “caution” — denotes the current situation, which includes caps on public gatherings of 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
A community or facility where the pandemic is more problematic could be designated Orange, which means “restricted,” or Red, which signifies “critical.”
Those designations carry more restrictions.
Manitoba’s total number of lab-confirmed cases recorded since March rose to 796 with the cases identified Thursday.
Since the virus was first reported in Manitoba in March 537 people have recovered, leaving 247 active cases as of Thursday. The number of deaths due to COVID-19 remains at 12.
As well as the 17 people in the Prairie Mountain Health region who’ve tested positive for the virus, Roussin said the new cases include 10 people in the Southern Heath region, and six cases in the Winnipeg region.
Roussin said due to a technical issue, he wasn’t able to give updated information about how many people are in hospital or intensive care with the virus Thursday.
At last report Wednesday, the province had six people hospitalized, with two in intensive care.
Provincial numbers show an additional 1,596 laboratory tests were completed Wednesday, bringing the total number of tests completed since early February to 119,210. Manitoba’s current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 1.9 per cent.
Health officials also warned Thursday of two potential exposures to COVID-19 that may have recently occurred.
The first potential exposure happened Aug. 8 at Manipogo Provincial Park, located on PTH 276 on Lake Manitoba and the second is possible Aug. 8 at a Crocus Soccer field at 930 First St. in Brandon, health officials said.
While Roussin said the risk for transmission is considered low, anyone who was at either location should go for testing should symptoms develop.
The new cases come after health officials reported the province’s 12th death from the virus Wednesday — a man, in his 60s, from the Grey health district in the Southern Health region — as well as 15 new cases.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced Wednesday face masks will be made mandatory for all students in Grades 4 through 12 when classes resume in September.
Schools will reopen across the province on Sept. 8 — with teachers and staff returning Sept. 2 to get ready.
The province had previously said masks would be “strongly recommended” but not mandatory for students and staff.
Roussin said the elevated restriction levels now coming to the Prairie Mountain Health region could change plans for back-to-school in the area to a more blended learning plan, but there are no decisions yet.
— With files from the Canadian Press
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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