‘Manitobans have been working hard,’ Dr. Brent Roussin says as province eyes easing outdoor rules

Manitoba announced 169 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths on Monday as the province’s top doctor hinted at loosening rules around outdoor gatherings.

“Absolutely we’re working on our roadmap to recovery,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.

The province is in the early stages of a downward trend and outdoor gatherings are less risky that indoor ones, he said.

“Manitobans have been working hard to address this. By staying home as much as possible, we’ve been able to start breaking some transmission chains and start seeing some of these numbers coming down,” he said.

“But our health-care system is still struggling. We still have a ways to go.”

Monday’s total was the lowest daily case count since April 21, when there were 164.

The two deaths — a man and woman, both in their 60s — are from the Winnipeg health region and both linked to the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, also called the alpha variant.

WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin warns next set of restrictions not likely to include ‘significant loosenings’:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said Monday the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital is still too high, even as daily case counts begin trending downward, and warned the next batch of public health orders are not likely to make major changes to current rules. The current public health orders will expire on June 12. 0:35

The total number of deaths of people with COVID-19 is now 1,077 in Manitoba. That includes 84 linked to the more contagious variants.

The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 11.9 per cent provincially (down slightly from 12 on Sunday) and 12.7 per cent in Winnipeg (down from 13).

The number of COVID-19 tests completed on Sunday, however, was just 1,838. That’s a significant decline from last week, when the number of daily tests ranged from about 2,400 to almost 3,000.

Slow, steady decline

The daily numbers have been steadily declining after hitting a record 603 in mid-May. The seven-day average in Manitoba is now 265, after peaking at 482 on May 22.

Of the latest cases, 111 are from the Winnipeg health region, 27 are from the Southern Health region, 16 are from the Northern Health Region, nine are from the Prairie Mountain Health region and six from the Interlake-Eastern health region.

The number of COVID-19 tests completed on Sunday, however, was just 1,838. That’s a significant decline from last week, when the number of daily tests ranged from about 2,400 to almost 3,000.

There are still 102 Manitobans receiving intensive care for COVID-19 — 66 in the province and 36 in ICUs outside the province: 33 in Ontario, two in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan.

Manitoba was also forced to send two cardiac patients out of the province to get surgery last week. One was sent to a facility in Ontario and the other was sent to Quebec.

Roussin stressed the importance of getting vaccinated as a key part of that roadmap out of the third wave.

“To bring an end to this and start getting our lives back to normal, we need to get vaccinated … and we need to follow the public health orders as much as possible,” he said.

Second-dose eligibility was expanded Monday to those who received their first shot on or before May 1. 

The current orders are set to expire June 12 and last week Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, suggested Manitobans not hold their breaths for big changes.

He told reporters he can only envision subtle changes, at best, with the new orders.

Roussin repeated that Monday but offered a little more hope for outdoor socializing being allowed again soon.

The health orders forbid gatherings indoors and outdoors beyond anyone from the same household, with an exception of one designated person for those who live alone. 

“The outdoor gathering, that is lower risk than indoors,” Roussin said. “We’re hoping, within a short period of time — in the outdoor setting — we can extend that [gathering limit] slightly.

“We absolutely need to see a clear downward trend. And we’re at the early stages of that. But given that we have our ICUs under significant strain, we can’t expect this round [of health order updates] to have any significant loosenings.”

WATCH | Roussin says hospital numbers still too high as COVID-19 daily case counts trend downward:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, urged Manitobans to get vaccinated and follow public health orders as the health-care system continues to struggle to care for a surge of COVID-19 patients, even as daily case counts in the province decline slightly. 1:40

Roussin was asked how seriously Manitoba is considering easing travel restrictions for people who have received both doses of their vaccines — something touched on in a new reopening survey from the province.

“We’re taking those types of things very much under consideration,” he said. “We know vaccine is our way out of this … and we’re looking for ways to make being fully vaccinated count.”

He promised more information on those sorts of incentives later this week.

“All pandemics end. We will be in a post-pandemic Manitoba at some point,” Roussin said.

“But remember, a post-pandemic Manitoba isn’t a post-COVID Manitoba. We’re going to be dealing with COVID likely for years to come.”

Many doctors and nurses say morale and staffing are at all-time lows in the province’s over-capacity health-care system.

More than 60 doctors at three Winnipeg hospitals signed their names to a letter sent on Saturday to Premier Brian Pallister and acting health minister Kelvin Goertzen expressing “grave concern” over the state of nursing in emergency departments in the city.

The letter says exhaustion and stress levels are rampant due to the exceptionally high number of hours that emergency room staff are working.