More than half of Manitoba’s 261 new COVID-19 cases are in the north

Parts of northern Manitoba continue to be hit hard by the spread of COVID-19, with the province announcing 261 new cases of the illness Thursday — more than half of which were in the north.

Those infections include some in Thompson and Lynn Lake — communities that have both seen a recent spike in cases, said Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief public health officer.

On Wednesday, the Town of Lynn Lake said there were 121 known active cases of the illness in the community, which reported a population just under 500 in the last census.

Most of Manitoba’s new cases Thursday are among First Nations people, the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team said in its daily bulletin. It reported 86 cases among people living on reserves, and another 81 among First Nations people living off-reserve — making up 64 per cent of the province’s latest infections.

Atwal said the cases in northern Manitoba are partly due to gatherings in people’s homes and in public. On a Thursday conference call with reporters, he said contact tracing investigations linked some cases to people visiting others from outside their household.

Atwal did not rule out the possibility that stricter restrictions could be left in place in northern Manitoba and rules loosened in other regions when provincewide public health orders expire next Friday. Those rules include bans on most gatherings and the sale of non-essential items.

“Everything is on the table,” Atwal said. “It’s going to be based on risk, based on epidemiology, based on a number of indicators.”

A little more than one-quarter of the new cases announced Thursday (75) are in the Winnipeg health region, while the rest are spread out between the Prairie Mountain Health region (23), the Southern Health region (13) and the Interlake-Eastern health region (11), the province said in a news release.

Two more deaths linked to COVID-19 were also announced in Manitoba on Thursday. The latest fatalities are two men: one in his 60s from the Winnipeg region and one in his 90s linked to the outbreak at the McCreary/Alonsa Health Centre, the release says. Manitoba’s COVID-19 death toll is 755.

There are now 290 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Manitoba, including 37 who are in intensive care, the release says.

The province’s five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate rose slightly to 10 per cent on Thursday, the release says, after dropping to 9.6 on Wednesday. In Winnipeg, that rate is now 7.1 per cent, down from 7.4 on Wednesday.

Manitoba’s test positivity rate — a rolling, five-day average of the COVID-19 tests that come back positive — now hovers around 10 per cent after peaking at 14.8 at the end of November. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Meanwhile, Manitoba is now using text messages in addition to phone calls to do contact tracing, Atwal said.

A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at the Rock Lake Hospital in Crystal City, Man., the province’s news release said, while a previously announced outbreak at the Gilbert Plains Personal Care Home is over.

Two previously announced cases of COVID-19 have been removed from Manitoba’s total due to a data correction, the release says, which brings the province’s tally of cases detected to 26,954.

To date, 23,313 people have recovered from COVID-19, while 2,866 are still considered active cases, though health officials have said that number is inflated because of a data entry backlog. Atwal said the true number of active cases in the province is likely closer to 1,394, based on a proxy calculation that looks at how many cases are 10 days past diagnosis.

There were 2,333 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Wednesday, bringing the total number completed in the province to 446,018, the release says.