5 more deaths, 94 new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba as province prepares for emergence of variants

Five more deaths and 94 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Manitoba on Tuesday.

This is the first time the daily caseload has been below 100 since Jan. 12, when there were 92 new cases. Prior to that, the province last saw a sub-100 daily count in mid-October.

One of the province’s health regions — Interlake-Eastern — reported zero new cases.

The Winnipeg area has the most new cases of any single health region with 41. The northern region has 36 new cases, while the Prairie Mountain Health region has 15 and the Southern Health region has two.

The total number of deaths in Manitoba due to COVID-19 is now 809.

One of the five new deaths is a woman in her 90s from the Prairie Mountain Health region, who is linked to the outbreak at Fairview Personal Care Home.

The other four deaths are from the Winnipeg area — a man in his 70s, a man in his 80s, a woman in her 80s who is linked to the outbreak at Seven Oaks General Hospital 5U1-3, and a man in his 90s who is linked to the outbreak at Fred Douglas Lodge.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said today’s low number of new cases — compared to the seven-day average of 170 — “is trending the right way, but we still have a number of people in hospital.”

There are currently 277 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 38 ICU patients.

That shows there “still is a burden on the acute care system,” Atwal said.

While the province is seeing benefits from its aggressive contact tracing, it is unrealistic to think the daily case totals will drop to zero any time soon, he said, but tipped his hat to the Interlake–Eastern region.

“This is a pandemic. This isn’t going away quick,” Atwal said. “We need to do what’s being asked of people to do by public health … to keep our case counts low.”

The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 10.3 per cent provincially and 6.4 per cent in Winnipeg after 1,118 tests were completed on Monday.

The province on Tuesday declared outbreaks over at the Boyne Lodge Personal Care Home in Carman and Health Sciences Centre unit GA4 in Winnipeg.

“Every interaction we have has a risk of propagating an infection. The more interactions we have, with the more people, that risk has a multiple on it. That’s where you get that exponential growth,” Atwal said.

The vaccination program will eventually help reduce that exponential risk “but we are still early on, on that vaccine side,” he said.

Preparing for variants

He also expressed concern about variant strains of the coronavirus, which are starting to show up in other provinces.

Canada’s first outbreak due to a coronavirus variant was identified this week at the Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., where local health officials say at least 84 staff and almost all of the 129 residents have been infected with COVID-19 since the outbreak was declared on Jan. 8, including 32 who had died as of Saturday. 

“We’re seeing more and more cases throughout Canada but again, nothing in Manitoba at this point,” Atwal said.

While some cases of the variants in other provinces can be traced to travel, there are some unknown acquisitions, leaving health officials to determine whether they are dealing with community spread, Atwal said.

“Work is being done on that in those provinces.”

Manitoba wanted to get ahead of the variants because early analysis, depending on the study being read, suggests they could be up to 70 per cent more communicable than the main strain.

Premier Brian Pallister on Tuesday announced a new 14-day quarantine that will be mandatory for all entering Manitoba as of Friday.

The order is being made out of an abundance of caution, in response to the “real danger” of COVID-19 variants, he said.

The travel restriction is designed to stop non-essential travel, by land or by air, and applies to people visiting the province and returning Manitobans.

“We want to try to get ahead of it. We want to try to protect Manitobans,” Atwal said.

“We want to make sure those things are in place to mitigate that risk of that virus coming into Manitoba, and if it does, that we’re able to respond to it quickly.”

But he’s not about to suggest those measures will be foolproof.

“Are you’re asking me if we’re going to 100 per cent prevent this from coming into Manitoba with the interventions in place? I think, realistically, there’s no way we could be 100 per cent definitive about that,” Atwal said.