Manitoba reported nine deaths from COVID-19 for the second-straight day Thursday and again saw record high levels of hospitalizations and patients needing critical care as a result of the virus.
The latest list of victims matches the record-setting number reported Wednesday and comes as health officials added another 474 new cases to Manitoba’s growing case count. Since March Manitoba has now seen 9,782 cases of the virus and 132 people have died from COVID-19.
The province says a record-setting 227 people are in hospital and another record high 34 are in ICU with the virus. The province also reached its highest ever five-day test positivity rate Thursday — 11 per cent.
The news comes as the province starts a stiffer round of COVID-19 restrictions, and questions swirl over an apparent last-minute change to the lockdown’s orders.
Under the restrictions bars, museums and theatres are closed and recreational activities suspended. Churches can’t hold in-person services and non-essential stores and restaurants are limited to curbside pickup and delivery.
But restrictions around social gatherings in people’s homes — originally not allowed under rules announced Tuesday — were changed in the Public Health Order posted online late Wednesday, which simply states that the maximum size of gatherings in the province is five people.
Manitoba’s chief public officer of health, Dr. Brent Roussin defended the order’s wording on social media Wednesday evening and on Thursday said what’s important is Manitobans stop socializing outside of their homes.
More deaths at PCHs
Eight of the newly reported deaths are from the Winnipeg region, where 99 people have now died and and 315 new cases were reported Thursday.
The city’s five-day test positivity rate hit an all-time high 11.4 per cent as of Thursday morning.
Winnipeg’s latest victims include four women in their 50s, 70s, and 80s, and 90s, as well as a man in his 60s and three other men in their 80s.
One of the deaths is connected to an outbreak at Winnipeg’s Parkview Place personal care home, four are linked to an outbreak at Maples Personal Care Home, and another is connected to an outbreak at Holy Family Long Term Care Home in the city.
The ninth death reported Thursday is a man in his 80s connected to an outbreak at Bethesda Regional Health Care medical unit in Steinbach, the province said.
Meanwhile health officials say a new outbreak has been declared at River East Personal Care Home in Winnipeg.
Thursday’s new cases were scattered throughout the province, with 26 reported in the Interlake-Eastern health region, 20 reported in the Northern health region, 19 identified in the Prairie Mountain health region, and 94 coming from the Southern health region.
Provincial data shows 6,030 cases remain active and 3,620 Manitobans have recovered from COVID-19.
According to Shared Health, as of midnight, 83 of Manitoba’s 91 ICU beds were in use across the province. They say two more ICU beds were added at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre in the past 48 hours.
At as press conference Thursday Roussin tried to clarify the rules around gathering sizes, as wording on the province’s website was updated during the briefing.
“Social contacts must be reduced to your household only,” the province’s website now reads.
“Social gatherings are not permitted, and gatherings of more than 5 people from outside a single household will be subject to fines.”
Roussin said it was unfortunate there has been confusion over the orders.
“Follow these orders,” he said.
“Don’t try to find ways around them. Don’t try to find ways that Manitobans can gather.”
“All persons are prohibited from assembling in a gathering of more than five persons at any indoor or outdoor place or premises,” the order reads.
“In the case of a gathering at a private residence, all persons who reside at that residence are not to be included when calculating the number of persons at the gathering.”
Manitoba’s NDP leader Wab Kinew has called the province’s apparent move to walk back social gathering restrictions a “serious threat to our ability to fight COVID-19 in the province and will only cause confusion and doubt regarding public health measures.
“It requires immediate explanation and, more importantly, reinstatement,” he said in a statement late Wednesday.
Roussin fired back on social media Wednesday.
“Again, #Stayhome to stop the transmission of #COVID19. That’s it. That’s the message,” he posted on Twitter.
In a statement sent to Global News just before Thursday’s press conference Roussin called on Manitobans to stay home.
“Public health orders are a tool to provide a basis for enforcement. They are used to help reinforce the direction to stay home, but are just part of our response,” he said.
“For the sake of our health care system, to protect your neighbours, to ensure that we can keep schools and child care open to give our kids a sense of normalcy during this time, stay home.
“The message everyone needs to hear right now, regardless of the legal orders, is don’t socialize outside your household.”
Manitoba has been struggling to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus since it started spiking in recent weeks after a summer lull.
The province reported 5,676 active cases on Wednesday, the deadliest day of the pandemic for Manitoba, with nine new deaths.
It’s the largest per-capita caseload of active infections in the country.
The sharp rise in cases and, with it, a record number of hospitalizations has put the health-care system under strain. Intensive care beds, including those occupied by non-COVID-patients, are running close to capacity.
There have been outbreaks in long-term care homes and hospitals, and widespread community transmission.
“We need to flatten our COVID curve and we need to do that now,” Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday as he announced the widespread slowdown which is to last as long as four weeks.
–With files from Elisha Dacey and 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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