Manitoba’s top doctor warned outdoor mask requirements and smaller gathering sizes could be on the way for Manitoba, as the province prepares to battle a growing third wave of COVID-19.
New restrictions are expected to be announced later this week to curb the potential impact on the health-care system, as the highly infectious B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant takes hold in Manitoba, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday.
"In the first wave, and in the second wave, we've never been helpless. (In) none of these waves have we been helpless. We all know what needs to be done, and when we put it into orders and enforce it, then we see that decline in transmission," he said.
Roussin didn't provide details about what Manitobans can expect to see in the next set of rules or how they'll affect businesses, except to say public health officials are trying to strongly encourage outdoor mask use and clamp down on indoor activities.
There has been a rise in COVID-19 spread via house parties, sleepovers, play dates and faith-based gatherings — a lot of "preventable transmission," Roussin said, some of it traced to returning travellers failing to follow self-isolation rules.
A couple of cases over the weekend have been linked to travellers who didn't isolate as required; last week, five separate households were implicated in the virus's spread because someone returned from Western Canada without quarantining, Roussin said.
"We advise people not to travel for non-essential reasons, but if you did, we need you to protect other Manitobans by isolating when you return. And if we don't have that buy-in, then this is what we see," he said.
"If you don't have to travel right now, whether it's in the province or outside the province, don't travel. We're in a third wave now, most of the country's been in a third wave, so there's no reason to travel for non-essential reasons right now."
It's unclear what tightened restrictions could mean for schools.
Manitoba has not signalled plans to return to widespread remote learning; public health officials are aware of an increase in cases among youth ages 10 to 19, but Roussin said the virus is spreading at gatherings, not at school.
On Monday, Manitoba recorded its sixth consecutive day of triple-digit new COVID-19 cases: 114. There were no new deaths reported.
The five-day test positivity rate was 6.2 per cent province-wide, and 5.6 per cent in Winnipeg. In the past six days, a total of 772 COVID-19 cases have been reported.
On Sunday, 2,030 COVID-19 tests were conducted at provincial labs.
Along with the rise in test positivity rates, public health officials are concerned Manitobans with mild symptoms may not be getting tested. Some people have tested positive after only experiencing loss of smell or taste, or having gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, Roussin said.
"Have a high degree of suspicion for COVID right now. Isolate if you have even mild symptoms; get tested as soon as possible. We need to stop this transmission in its tracks or we're going to be back to further restrictions," he said.
New infections were reported Monday in all health regions: 62 in Winnipeg, 36 in Northern Health, nine in Prairie Mountain, four in Southern Health, and three in Interlake-Eastern.
A total of 135 people were in hospital receiving treatment for COVID-19, including 33 in intensive care.
The province is acknowledging the B.1.1.7 variant (first detected in the U.K.) is becoming the dominant strain in Manitoba. The more highly contagious strain accounts for the majority of the province's 412 confirmed cases involving variants.
The province has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the Emerson Health Centre in the U.S. border town.
A new drive-thru rapid testing location has opened in Winkler for eligible school staff and those working in licensed child-care centres.
Appointments are not necessary, though people will be asked if they meet eligibility criteria and to present proof, such as a work identification card or letter for the Fast Pass program.
The test site is located at 485 George Ave. Hours of operation are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.