October 23, 2020

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Winnipeg learns it's not easy being orange

Editorial

Now the people of Winnipeg, and the Winnipeg commuter-shed, will find out what the orange level of anti-COVID-19 measures feels like. It will feel a lot like the yellow level we knew before, only more so. Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, on Monday moved Winnipeg and its region from the yellow (caution) code to the orange (restricted) code.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

A great many grocery shoppers and others jostling among strangers in enclosed places were already wearing face masks last week. Now, and through October at least, we must all wear them in indoor public spaces. It’s inconvenient, of course, and complaining will be heard, but it is not a hardship. Peer pressure will encourage compliance.

The reasons for wearing masks are pretty obvious from the experience so far. A simple cloth mask, correctly worn, will spare our neighbours from most of the virus-laden droplets we all distribute by breathing, speaking, coughing or sneezing. They may even protect the wearer from inhaling some of their neighbours’ droplets.

No one can tell by mere observation who is shedding virus and who is not. Is my mask protecting me or protecting you? Both of us, to differing extents, but mainly it’s protecting everybody.

The daily number of new cases in Manitoba, which was running around 20 per day in early September, suddenly ballooned to 40 or more per day starting last week. That is not a particularly scary number in itself, but it showed a marked change in disease transmission from the preceding weeks and provided a warning that more people are spreading it, more people are catching it and more people in bad trouble might be turning up in hospitals in a week or two. Most of the increase was found in and around Winnipeg.

Winnipeg, with its 40–ish new cases per day, is still a long way behind those larger centres in Ontario and Quebec. Dr. Roussin is giving us the opportunity to keep it that way.

In these conditions, a mask requirement and a 10-person ceiling on gatherings in and around Winnipeg are reasonable. Schools and most businesses can carry on.

Similar measures worked well in Brandon. The daily case number in Brandon and its region spiked above 20 per day in mid-August. A mask requirement and 10-person ceiling on gatherings in the Prairie Mountain Health Region brought that number back below 10 new cases per day in early September, so the restrictions were relaxed on Sept. 15. Winnipeg would do well to achieve an equally quick response.

Winnipeg’s uptick in virus transmission is rather slight compared to what has happened in Toronto and Montreal. Ontario reported 700 new cases on Monday, of which 344 were in Toronto. The city abruptly closed three drinking establishments that were brazenly defiant of social distance and sanitation rules.

Quebec reported 896 new cases on Sunday, concentrated in the Montreal and Quebec regions. The Quebec health minister warned he was about to apply the tightest restrictions on those regions by raising their danger level to red. This may have a severe temporary effect on trade and employment in those regions.

Winnipeg, with its 40-ish new cases per day, is still a long way behind those larger centres in Ontario and Quebec. Dr. Roussin is giving us the opportunity to keep it that way. It may feel terribly unfair to people who hate the way their glasses fog up and to operators of banquet halls who see larger gatherings permitted a few miles down the road. But they, like the rest of us, will just have to live with it while we all try to survive October.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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