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Manitoba’s neighbour to the south, North Dakota, has 10 times the coronavirus cases

Click to play video 'COVID-19: North Dakota vs. Manitoba' COVID-19: North Dakota vs. Manitoba
Manitoba and North Dakota might be close in distance, but the state and province are far apart when it comes to dealing with COVID-19. Joe Scarpelli reports.

Both Manitoba and its American neighbour North Dakota had seen few coronavirus cases last spring, but as of the first day of fall, the province and state are thousands of cases apart.

As of Tuesday morning, North Dakota, which has a population of about 760,000, has 3,210 active cases, bumping the state’s total to 18,244 since the pandemic began.

In Manitoba, which has a population of about 1.3 million, there are currently 363 active cases, bringing the province’s total to 1,608.

Read more: Coronavirus: A look back at 6 months of pandemic in Manitoba

Dr. Joshua Wynne, University of North Dakota’s vice president of health affairs and chief health strategist for the state, said there are a number of reasons for the dramatic spike in new cases over the past few weeks.

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For one, Wynne said the virus is simply making its way to the centre of the country.

“Both coasts of the United States had significant early outbreaks, so part of what’s happening is just the natural evolution of what happened on the coasts moving to the centre,” Wynne said.

Click to play video 'Is Canada in a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic? A doctor answers our questions' Is Canada in a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic? A doctor answers our questions
Is Canada in a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic? A doctor answers our questions

The state increased testing and saw university students arrive on campus in August, both of which contributed to the outbreak, according to Wynne.

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He also said residents began to let their guards down.

“We got lulled into a false sense of security and I don’t think all of us have been practising the physical distancing, hand washing, masks and so forth,” Wynne said.

Read more: U.S. health experts’ alarm grew as Trump played down coronavirus

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Since March, Manitoba recorded 18 COVID-19-related deaths, while North Dakota is reporting 193 deaths due to the virus.

Similar to Manitoba, people in the 20-29 age group make up most of North Dakota’s current cases.

“While I’m not happy that we’ve seen this significant uptick in cases, the fact that it’s in younger people gives us some hope that if we can keep them isolated, so it doesn’t spread to the more vulnerable populations, that the impact of the increase in the number of cases will be less,” Wynne said.

While university campuses and some businesses require face coverings, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has rejected the idea of issuing a mask mandate for the state.

In Manitoba, with the exception of the Prairie Mountain Health Region, masks haven’t been mandated, either.

The province’s chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, had previously said no restrictions are off the table and masks could be mandated if necessary.

Read more: Keeping Canada, U.S. border closed may help ‘keep lid’ on coronavirus numbers: Fauci

Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Calgary, believes behaviour is the number one reason North Dakota is seeing far more positive cases than Manitoba.

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“When we even compare, for example, the two countries as a whole, there’s a massive difference between COVID-19 rates in the United States and in Canada,” Jenne said.

“The people in the United States are no more susceptible to this disease than we are, yet their viral rates are so high because they’re no longer following these very basic restrictions that we tend to follow here in Canada.”

While Canada’s case count might be lower than south of the border, Jenne said province’s like Manitoba, where cases are among the lowest, can’t become complacent.

“When we let our guard down, there’s nothing protecting us and we will see ourselves in a similar situation to what we’re observing in a number of U.S. states.”

The U.S. and Canada border has been closed since March and won’t reopen until at least Oct. 21.