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The number of active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba continued on a downward trend Wednesday, as testing for the contagion surpassed provincial targets for the first time since early April.
Provincial public health officials reported no new cases of the novel coronavirus as of Wednesday morning, the same day Premier Brian Pallister confirmed the province would move fully into Phase 2 of its economic recovery plan June 1.
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said 14 people were still battling the virus, while 271 Manitobans are considered to have recovered. None of the active cases required hospitalization, and the province’s total case count remained at 292, including seven deaths.
The active caseload has gradually declined since the province moved to loosen economic restrictions May 4. Since that date, 11 new cases have been reported, with a number stemming from a workplace cluster in Brandon and a small chain of transmissions connected to an employee at a Winnipeg Walmart store.
Roussin said the province is into the second incubation period for the virus since the first phase of reopening, and numbers continue to be favourable.
Overall, about 11 per cent of the province’s reported cases have been classified as community transmission (where a case cannot be linked to a confirmed exposure, close contact or travel).
Whether the province will be able to hit zero active cases will be a function of time, Roussin said.
"Almost always within 14 days of developing symptoms, almost all of those people are going to be labelled as recovered," he said. "We expect to see that number continue to remain low, although Manitobans need to get used to seeing this virus. We’re going to see more cases.
"So the things that we’re following like our positive test rate, things like the number of cases that can’t be linked to a case or to travel, those are the real important things that we’re going to measure," Roussin said.
"We’re not going to be thrown off our progress by seeing cases here and there."
On Tuesday, the province performed 1,145 laboratory tests, bringing the total number administered since early February to 40,466.
Public health officials have aimed to swab around 1,000 people a day across the province in order to understand the prevalence of the coronavirus in the community and help guide the economic reopening strategy.
For weeks, the province had not hit its target number, despite opening testing broadly to all Manitobans.
Some 600 people on average have been tested daily for the virus between May 16 and 20. The province last surpassed the 1,000-test mark April 1, when 1,300 were performed.
"This is the kind of numbers I would expect to see throughout the week, and maybe a drop over the weekends," Roussin said.
Since the province started targeted testing of asymptomatic Manitobans — those who do not have any symptoms of COVID-19 — late last week, Roussin said around 250 tests were performed as part of the surveillance effort, though the number could now be higher.
Roussin said the province has also considered a number of smartphone applications to help with contact-tracing efforts, and would prefer to adopt a technology that would also be embraced by other Canadian provinces.
Roussin said such an app would detect close prolonged contact with others, and would not collect or disclose personal details about individuals. It would, however, allow public health officials to alert people if they contact with a confirmed case.
"We think that there’s a number of apps out there that would meet our privacy requirements and Manitobans would be accepting of," he said. "But we’re still a ways away before we have something to implement here."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
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Updated on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at 7:21 PM CDT: Adds caseload chart