As Manitobans get ready to head into the May long weekend with tighter public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, Victoria Gibson is worried about explaining the new rules to her son.
“He doesn’t really understand it,” Gibson said. “It sucks.”
With case numbers soaring and hospitalizations from COVID-19 rising in Manitoba, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin delivered the news Thursday that people will not be permitted to gather outdoors with anyone outside their household starting Saturday.
While the current public health orders have restricted private gatherings, a group of up to five people have been able to meet outside in public areas, such as a park.
Gibson said her son, who’s about to turn five, was already disappointed about his soccer league recently postponing practices. Now she’ll have to tell him he can’t play outside with other kids on his street.
“I think that if you guys still have social distancing and stuff it should be OK,” she said. “Especially in parks and stuff like that. It doesn’t really make sense to me.”
Roussin said people who live alone can still have one designated visitor.
In addition to the restriction on outdoor gatherings, Roussin said only one person per household will be allowed to enter a business, though exceptions will be made for caregivers and people who require care.
“I can’t understate the importance of us staying at home now to eliminate contacts outside of our household,” Roussin said Thursday.
“We’re just seeing such increased transmission right now, increased demand on our health-care system, especially the ICUs, that we just don’t have really any further choice but to issue further restrictions.”
The new restrictions, which will be in place until 12:01 a.m. on May 26, were announced just hours after Manitoba reported a single-day record of 603 new COVID-19 infections.
And earlier this week, Manitoba sent three COVID-19 ICU patients to hospital in Thunder Bay, Ont., because the recent spike of severe cases put ICU capacity at risk.
As of Thursday, there were 291 people in Manitoba hospitals due to COVID-19, including 76 patients in ICU.
Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and the founder of EPI Research, said once the virus picks up the kind of momentum it has now, it can be hard to push case numbers back down.
She understands why some might be confused about the need to limit outdoor gatherings, since the risk of transmission is significantly higher indoors than outdoors, but the challenge is that the variants of concern are much more transmissible.
“I think what’s happening now is that Dr. Roussin wants to block as many targets as possible while our vaccine program continues to increase.”
People still need to remember that people are most infectious about two days before they develop symptoms, which means they can spread COVID-19 before they know they have it, Carr said.
“There’s a two week period where a person may have the virus and not know it and be able to transmit to other people.”
Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada research chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said people in the province need to do everything they can to get transmission of the virus down.
“I think really what we need to do is consider the stress right now that we’re seeing in our health-care system,” he said.
“We are at that worst-case scenario that all of us have been talking about and been concerned about as Manitobans for a long period of time.”
While the increasing number of people getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is going to help, Manitobans need to make good decisions right now to help the health-care workers on the front lines who have been treating patients throughout this pandemic, he said.
“It comes to down to personal decisions,” he said. “If you don’t need to be out and you don’t need to be with other people, don’t.”
It’s hard to say what other additional measures could help slow the spread of the virus without seeing the data that shows where transmission is happening, Kindrachuk said.
Donny Dewar said he doesn’t like the new restrictions, but he gets why they’re being added.
“I guess you gotta do what you gotta do to get the curve down, right?”
Dewar thinks it’s important to try to get case numbers under control now, so that restrictions can ease this summer.
The new measures won’t change much for him either way, he said.
“I don’t hang out with anybody but my family anyway.”