Health officials in Manitoba reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and say the Prairie Mountain Health region will soon be lowered to the caution, or yellow, level on the province’s pandemic response system.
The latest cases bring the total number of COVID-19 cases identified in Manitoba since March to 1,500.
One of the cases is in the Prairie Mountain Health region, two are in the Southern Health region, and eight cases are in Winnipeg.
Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin said the Prairie Mountain Health region’s threat level will drop to yellow starting Friday as the number of cases in the area have fallen over the last few weeks.
That means public gatherings will be limited to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Masks are strongly recommended but not required, under the new health orders, according to a release from the province.
“What this shows is something we all know, we know how to deal with this virus,” Roussin said.
“We know what to do to limit our risks, but we know that we need to stick to those fundamentals.”
The region has been under the restricted orange level under the province pandemic response system since late August.
At the time the Prairie Mountain Health region, which includes Brandon, Dauphin and other communities in much of the western part of the province, was seeing an outbreak of cases.
Roussin said the 240 cases that were reported active in the region when the restrictions were put in place have since fallen to 38 as of Thursday.
Provincial data shows Manitoba currently has 293 active cases of COVID-19. Ten people are in hospital with the virus, including two in intensive care. Sixteen Manitobans have died due to the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began.
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The province reported 23 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — including 20 in Winnipeg — where the active case count rose to 209 as of Thursday.
At a press conference Wednesday Roussin said the province has moved John Pritchard School in Winnipeg into the orange, or restricted level, of the province’s pandemic response system after seven cases of the virus have been linked to the school.
Roussin said none of the new cases reported Thursday are linked to John Pritchard School.
The cases at the school are the first to be transmitted within a school in the province since classes resumed last week, Roussin has said.
Officials announced earlier in the day Wednesday students in Grades 6, 7 and 8, as well as a split Grade 4 and 5 class at the school will move entirely to remote learning for an estimated two weeks.
Manitoba students returned to class Sept. 8 and schools were aiming to have full-time in-class learning for children up to Grade 8.
Since then the province has warned about possible COVID-19 exposures at several schools in Winnipeg and Brandon.
Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said 11 cases were connected to schools as of Wednesday.
Meanwhile Winnipeg’s four testing sites for COVID-19 reached capacity by 3 p.m. Wednesday — the second day in a row the sites closed early.
Roussin reiterated what he’d said Wednesday — that the province is working to ramp up testing — but couldn’t say when more testing sites might be opened when asked again Thursday.
“I can’t really say a specific timeline — there’s location, there’s staffing, there’s all these things that go into place,” he said.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, when we ramped up very quickly, we had people in the health-care system, that their normal work was put on hold — we don’t have that issue right now — but it is something that we’re paying attention to.”
When asked if health officials would look at hiring outsourced workers to get more sites open, Roussin said “nothing is really off the table.”
In the meantime public health is advising those heading for a test to check the province’s website for a list of current testing sites and hours of operation before leaving home.
Only those with COVID-19 symptoms or those who have been recommended for testing by public health officials should be tested, Roussin said.
There were 1,403 tests done on Wednesday in Manitoba, according to provincial data.
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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