The province’s top doctor implored Manitobans to cut down on close contacts — including backing off outdoor public gatherings — as he announced 502 more cases of COVID-19 and four deaths on Monday.
Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin spoke again a day after he announced all schools in Winnipeg and Brandon will go to remote learning this week, and three days after he announced widespread business closures.
“We really needed this circuit break to show just how important this is and we really need to decrease those activities,” Roussin said during a Monday news conference.
“A lot of people are very tired of this … but we do need to hang in there.”
The number of Manitobans in hospital rose to 215, with 60 of those patients in intensive care. On Sunday, there were 52 COVID-19 patients in the ICU.
The provincial test positivity rate rose to 11.6 from 10.9 per cent, while the rate in Winnipeg rose to 13.8 per cent from 13 per cent on Sunday.
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The four people who died include three people who had the B117 coronavirus variant originally detected in the U.K.: a man in his 40s from the Southern Health region, a man in his 60s from Winnipeg, and a man in his 80s from Southern Health region. The fourth person who died was a man in his 50s from the Northern Health region.
The number of cases confirmed as variants is only updated from Tuesday to Saturday. The last update pegged variant cases to date at 3,665. The more transmissible variants made up over a third of Manitoba’s 3,771 active cases.
So far, 997 people have died due to COVID-19.
Roussin said the latest spike in cases is partly tied to private gatherings and people having too many close contacts or not isolating when they should. Gatherings, indoors or out, have been banned in Manitoba for almost two weeks, other than in outdoor public places, where a maximum of five people are allowed to gather.
Manitobans can expect to see updated modelling soon that will illustrate what the current crush of cases could mean for hospitalizations, Roussin said.
On Friday, provincial officials announced Manitoba was adding 19 ICU beds in hospitals in Winnipeg and Brandon as the effects of the surge in cases, primarily in people under the age of 70, has begun to show up in hospitals. Officials say to a degree, that’s a testament to high vaccination rates in older populations.
Given the rapid and increasing spread, it remains unclear whether Manitoba will loosen rules later this month when the restrictions are slated to expire.
Manitoba’s daily caseload spiked dramatically over the past month, and hospitalizations have followed those trends.
On April 10, Manitoba’s seven-day average was just about 100 cases. It’s ballooned to around 420 — about four times higher than it was a month ago.
Manitoba’s reopening plan will be partly contingent on vaccination rates, hospital capacity and local epidemiology, Roussin said. In the coming weeks, Manitobans can expect to learn about specific benchmarks the province will need to hit in order to gradually reopen, he said.
Those plans will resemble what Saskatchewan recently released, including targets for when some restrictions might be relaxed, Roussin said.
Saskatchewan released the plan last week as a way of incentivizing compliance with public health orders and spurring vaccine uptake. It includes targets in May, June and July that would have to be met in order to warrant a gradual reopening.
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Schools close Wednesday
On Sunday, Roussin and Manitoba’s education minister announced all Winnipeg and Brandon kindergarten to Grade 12 schools will go to remote learning on Wednesday until at least May 30. Some schools outside those cities are also closing.
The same day Cullen and Roussin made the announcement, the province posted its second-highest daily case count, with 532 new cases. That number was only surpassed on one other day, Nov. 24, 2020, when there were 546 new cases announced.
There will be more school closures announced soon, Roussin said.
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Manitoba is in a race to get more vaccines out before the increasing number of cases, driven by more contagious variants of the virus, leads to an overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization, he said.
“We are in that race but I do think the vaccine is proving to be effective,” Roussin said. “That’s really going to be our way out of this.”
The age of eligibility for a vaccine dropped to anyone 30 and older on Monday. The province plans to open up eligibility to everyone 12 and up by May 21.
As of Wednesday, Manitoba has vaccinated 44.4 per cent of adults with at least one dose.