Manitoba set a staggering new record for daily COVID-19 cases Friday, reporting 480 new cases, as health officials announced tough new public health orders across the province including level red restrictions in the Winnipeg area.
The latest cases brings the province’s total number of cases reported since March to 5,374 and come as Manitoba’s top doctor and chief nursing officer announced the tightened restrictions at a live COVID-19 update Friday.
“We have pleaded with Manitobans to follow the fundamentals and to significantly reduce their contacts, and the numbers continue in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public officer of health.
“It is our hope that these new restrictions will help to halt the spread of this virus in order to ensure our health-care system is there for those who need it.
“I hope that this is a clear signal to Manitobans, and in particular the Winnipeg Metro Region, that we need to stay home, keep our distance and make a necessary collective sacrifice to protect all Manitobans.”
In a release the province said the large case count comes following a data backlog that saw a number of previously unannounced cases added to Friday’s total.
Of the 480 news cases, two were identified Sunday, four were identified Monday, 44 were identified Tuesday, 193 were identified Wednesday and 237 were identified Thursday, the province said.
Three new deaths were also announced Friday, bringing Manitoba’s total number fatalities related to COVID-19 to 65.
The latest victims are a man and woman in their 80s and a woman in her 90s, all three had been residents of Parkview Place Long Term Home in Winnipeg, the province said. Their deaths are the 20th, 21st, and 22nd connected to a deadly and ongoing outbreak at the Edmonton Street care home.
Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate jumped to 8.6 per cent with the new cases — almost quadruple the national average — according to the province’s online COVID-19 dashboard.
As well as moving the Winnipeg area to level red, or critical, under the province’s COVID-19 pandemic response system, Roussin said the rest of Manitoba will be moving to orange, or restricted.
The changes will come into effect in all regions of Manitoba starting Monday, Roussin said.
Winnipeg under code red
In Winnipeg the move means bars and restaurants will close except for take out and delivery and most retail will be reduced to 25 per cent capacity. Sports and recreation programming will be suspended and gyms and fitness centres will have to cut capacity to 25 per cent.
Masks will now be mandatory — even when exercising — at Winnipeg gyms and fitness centres.
Movie theatres and concert halls will be closed, while faith-based gatherings are reduced to 15 per cent, or 100 people, whichever is lower.
What the province calls “personal services” will see no changes and stay at 50 per cent capacity.
Non-urgent and elective surgeries and diagnostics will be suspended, but Roussin said some essential and time-sensitive surgeries — including cancer, cardiac and trauma — will go ahead. He said patients will be contacted directly.
Hospital visits have also been suspended, with some exceptions possible for patients receiving end-of-life care, in labour and delivery, as well as in pediatrics.
Level orange restrictions
Starting Monday the Southern Health, Prairie Mountain Health, and Interlake-Eastern health region will move to the restricted, or orange, level on the pandemic response system, joining the Northern Health region, which has had the orders in place for the last couple of weeks.
The restrictions will see public and private group gathering sizes limited to five people, in addition to those already in a household.
Restaurants and bars will have capacity capped at 50 per cent and group sizes will be limited to five. Retail will also be cut to 50 per cent and the province is encouraging limiting the number of people who go shopping from each household.
Personal services will have no change and stay at 50 per cent capacity, while sports and recreation facilities will be limited to 25 per cent capacity.
Gyms and fitness centers will being requiring contact information for all attendees and masks will be required at all times, except when exercising.
Faith-based gatherings will be cut to 20 per cent or 250 people, whichever is lower.
There will also be blended learning for Grades 9 to 12, and voluntary blended learning temporarily available for Kindergarten to Grade 8.
The restrictions in Winnipeg an across the province are to be in place for at least two weeks and will be reassessed at that time, Roussin said.
The changes follow an open letter to the government signed by 18 Manitoba doctors. The letter warned that the health-care system could be overrun unless there was a provincewide shutdown.
Friday’s new cases include 309 in Winnipeg where the five-day test positivity rate rose to 9.7 per cent. They bring Manitoba’s total number of active cases to 2,737.
The new cases came from across the province Friday with 42 coming from the Interlake-Eastern health region, 25 coming from the Northern health regions, 10 reported in the Prairie Mountain Health region, and 94 identified in the Southern Health region.
Provincial data shows Manitoba set another grim record Friday, with 104 people in hospital with COVID-19 including 19 in intensive care.
On Thursday — after the province announced a previously record-setting 193 new cases — Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen hinted tighter public health measures were likely coming to the Winnipeg area.
Neither Friesen nor Premier Brian Pallister were scheduled to be part of Friday’s press event, leaving Roussin and Manitoba’s chief nursing officer, Lanette Siragusa to announce the new restrictions and face questions from reporters.
Friday’s unprecedented new case count follows weeks of rising numbers in Winnipeg and across the province.
At one point in the summer, Manitoba had only one active COVID-19 case. Numbers started spiking in late summer.
The province hit its 11th straight day with daily case counts of 100 or more Friday, and 21 virus-related deaths have been announced since Oct. 21.
Earlier in the week Siragusa warned the recent spike in cases is taking a toll on health care.
As outbreaks continue at two Winnipeg hospitals and numerous personal care homes in the city and province-wide, Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital said its intensive care unit was officially over capacity as of Thursday night.
Siragusa said Friday the province’s health-care system currently has capacity, but warned the surge in cases will to put added strain on the already stressed system.
She said as of 8:30 a.m. Friday morning ICU capacity was at 96 per cent, with 68 of 71 beds in use (including the 19 being used by COVID-19 patients).
“These numbers are concerning,” she said.
“And with these daily case counts increasing, we can expect there’s going to be more hospitalizations in the next week or two.
“That is why we will be moving towards ramping down services along with the red restrictions.”
Siragusa said the province is adding beds to existing areas, working to convert existing beds from their current use, and identifying staff who can be moved to the front lines.
The province may also shift patients to facilities other than hospitals, she said.
“Plans are in place to create new beds for our least-sick non-COVID patients outside of the hospital, should we need more hospital space,” said Siragusa.
Meanwhile Roussin called on Winnipeg businesses — including the public service — to have staff work from home wherever possible and reiterated the importance of Manitobans staying home if sick.
“The incubation period for this virus is up to 14 days – if we limit our contacts and stay home, we could see drastic reductions in transmission within weeks,” he said.
“We have done this before and I am confident we can do it again. But we need to be serious about this if we want to bend the curve.”
–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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