New rules coming for northern, Winnipeg schools, as record 4 COVID-19 deaths reported in Manitoba

People in northern Manitoba will see new restrictions next week, the province’s top doctor says, as health officials work to slow the spread of COVID-19 in high-risk settings like isolated communities.

The Northern Health region — geographically, the largest in Manitoba — will move to the orange, or restricted, level on the province’s pandemic response system as of Monday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced Thursday.

Increasing signs of community spread in the region, along with more cases among vulnerable people like those experiencing homelessness and living in shelters, were among the factors that prompted the change, Roussin said.

“We know that the north is already at risk for transmission of this virus, especially in remote, isolated communities, [with limited] access to health care,” he said, adding that the decision was made in consultation with municipal and First Nations leaders in the region.

Overall cases are on the rise in the north, as is the region’s five-day test positivity rate — a rolling average of the COVID-19 tests that come back positive — which reached 4.6 per cent as of Thursday, Roussin said. In the province as a whole, that rate was 5.6 per cent as of Thursday — the highest it’s been in Manitoba.

Meanwhile, an outbreak was declared at the Ochekwi Sipi Cree Nation Personal Care Home on Fisher River Cree Nation after a health-care worker there tested positive for COVID-19. The facility in the Interlake community has been moved to the red, or critical, level on the pandemic response system.

The new rules for northern Manitoba, which will be the same as those currently in place in the Winnipeg metropolitan region, also apply to Churchill. The northern town is technically part of the Winnipeg health region.

Those measures include a cap of five on gathering sizes, lowering occupancy limits at a slew of businesses and bringing in measures to help contact tracers.

Measures that will take effect in northern Manitoba on Monday and remain in effect for at least two weeks include:

  • Closing casinos, bingo halls and entertainment facilities that have live entertainment licences (though they’ll still be allowed to provide food take-out or delivery service).
  • Limiting occupancy at other licensed businesses, retail stores and restaurants to 50 per cent.
  • Limiting occupancy at personal service businesses to 50 per cent or one person per 10 square metres (whichever is lower).
  • Mandating sites — including restaurants or licensed premises, theatres, museums, galleries, libraries, personal service businesses, concert halls and fitness facilities — to keep patrons’ contact information for 21 days to support contract tracing.

The new rules for northern Manitoba came as the province announced four more deaths linked to COVID-19 on Thursday — a record for fatalities announced in Manitoba in a single day.

The province also announced 147 new cases of the illness on Thursday, marking Manitoba’s second-highest one-day increase.

Two of the latest deaths — men in their 70s and 80s — are linked to Winnipeg’s Parkview Place personal care home, Roussin said. There have now been 13 coronavirus-linked deaths at the site, in the deadliest care-home outbreak in the province.

The other two deaths were men in their 80s in the Winnipeg and Interlake-Eastern health regions.

There are now 42 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Manitoba — the highest the province has seen — including eight who are in intensive care.

School restrictions coming

Meanwhile, schools in both northern Manitoba and the Winnipeg area may see more remote learning starting Monday, as the province brings in more restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in those settings.

The new restrictions come as a third Manitoba school has been elevated to the orange level in the pandemic response system because of the possibility COVID-19 is spreading within its walls. The outbreak at Arborgate School in La Broquerie, Man., now includes three people, Seine River School Division superintendent Mike Borgfjord said on Thursday.

The new rules include ensuring two-metre physical distancing as much as possible, adjusting classroom space as needed.

There’s also the possibility of offering temporary remote learning options for students from kindergarten to Grade 8.

All other public health measures will stay in effect, and blended in-class and online learning for high school students will continue.

87 cases in Winnipeg

Eighty-seven of the new cases announced in Manitoba on Thursday are in the Winnipeg health region, Roussin said. Another 33 are in the Southern Health region, while the Interlake-Eastern and Northern health regions each reported 10 new cases. There are seven new cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region.

The province is also dealing with outbreaks in several high-risk settings, including a poultry processing plant in Blumenort, Man. An employee at that plant has died after contracting COVID-19, and 33 others had tested positive for the illness as of Thursday morning.

A COVID-19 outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital had closed two units as of Wednesday. Eleven patients and five staff at the Winnipeg hospital have had contracted the illness. 

Meanwhile, another outbreak at Headingley Correctional Centre had spread to 29 inmates and three staff as of Wednesday.

The outbreak at the Bethesda Place personal care home in Steinbach, where several residents died after contracting COVID-19, has now been declared over.

There have now been 3,773 cases of COVID-19 identified in Manitoba. Of those, 1,920 people have recovered, 47 have died and 1,806 are considered active — though Roussin has previously said that number is skewed because of a data entry backlog.

Another 2,220 COVID-19 tests were completed in Manitoba on Wednesday, bringing the total done since early February to 233,222.