Manitoba reported five deaths and 113 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday as the province emerged from the first — but only slight — loosening of restrictions in two months.
Although many Manitobans were able to purchase non-essential goods in stores as of Saturday, the province remains at the red, or critical, level of its pandemic response system and Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin is hearing frustration.
However, he took a firm stand against the push by some to widen the reopening.
“Public health is aware that many business and sectors are frustrated that they’re still not able to open at this point,” he said.
“It comes down to the nature of this virus, that we know this virus spreads with close contact, prolonged indoor contact, especially in crowded places.”
Businesses that sell non-essential goods — and some service providers, including barbershops and hairstylists — are allowed to reopen.
The loosened rules don’t apply to the Northern Health Region, though, because of the area’s stubbornly high COVID-19 case numbers.
They also don’t apply to restaurants, fitness facilities, recreation facilities or concert and theatre venues, which the Canadian Federation of Independent Business expressed concern for on the weekend.
Keeping those businesses closed “is not a reflection on the efforts of that sector. It’s a reflection on the virus,” Roussin said.
“There’s a lot of important things out there. A lot of impact on many different people — mental health, economic impacts — but we just can’t be back to where we were in November,” he said.
“And so these are the tough choices we make.”
Cases down, positivity rate up
Although Monday’s case count is a significant drop from the seven-day average of 170, the north is again reporting the majority of new cases, with 58.
“We’re really concerned with the level of transmission that’s happening right now,” Roussin said, noting “a lot of work” is happening at the moment from all levels of governments to address that.
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Meanwhile, the Winnipeg health region has 33 new cases, while there are 10 new cases in the Interlake–Eastern health region and six each in the Prairie Mountain Health region and the Southern Health region.
Overall, there are 272 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in the province, a decrease of six from Sunday, with 36 in intensive care, also a decrease of six.
On the other hand, the five-day test positivity rate is up from Sunday — 10.8 per cent provincially and 6.8 per cent in Winnipeg.
Death toll passes 800
The five latest deaths have pushed the province beyond the 800 mark, with 804 people dead from coronavirus.
Of the five deaths, three are from Prairie Mountain — a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 80s who is linked to the outbreak at the McCreary/Alonsa Health Centre and a man in his 80s who is linked to the outbreak at the medical unit at the Dauphin Regional Health Centre.
The other two are from the Winnipeg region: a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 70s. The death of the latter is linked to the outbreak at Concordia Place.
Outbreaks have been declared over at the Brandon Correctional Centre, Woodhaven Manor in Steinbach and the River Ridge II Retirement Residence in Winnipeg.
Some optimism can be taken from the lower case numbers as well as from the rate of deaths — two on Friday and three each on Saturday and Sunday — but experience shows those statistics can quickly change if we don’t remain focused, Roussin said.
He asked the public to remember that in October and early November, a larger sector of the economy was open, yet “a lot of businesses were frustrated that things weren’t open enough.”
Then Manitoba’s caseloads soared, with daily numbers beyond the 400 mark and even surpassing 500.
“We were in that exponential climb in November that was going to overrun our health-care system as early as the second week of December if we stayed on that trajectory,” Roussin said.
“If we go back to that level of opening, we’ll be right back on that trajectory. There’s no reason to think things would work out differently this time.”
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That’s why the current reopening is being done cautiously. The more things are open, the more interactions that occur, the more spread we’re going to see, Roussin said.
The health-care system is only right now at a spot where some elective procedures that were previously suspended can resume. But not all of them, Roussin noted.
“So the health-care system isn’t there right now for everyone because of the number of COVID cases in hospital. We can’t do things right now that are going to escalate the cases further,” he said.
“I understand the frustration, but what is our alternative? We just can’t open everything up.”
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