‘We’re not out of this,’ top doctor warns as COVID-19 test positivity rate drops, rules ease in Manitoba

Manitoba’s COVID-19 test positivity rate dropped to its lowest point in nearly four months on Friday, as the province marked a straight week of daily case increases below 100.

Of the 81 new infections announced Friday, 28 — or just over one-third — were in Manitoba’s southernmost health region.

The province’s five-day test positivity rate fell to 4.8 per cent, a low it hasn’t seen since Oct. 20. In Winnipeg, that rate was four per cent, up slightly from 3.9 per cent Thursday.

The jump in cases in the Southern Health region appears to be driven by the Altona health district, which on Friday had 22 active cases, according to the province’s online COVID-19 dashboard.

Most of those cases were household contacts of people who had tested positive for COVID-19, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday. Under Manitoba’s public health rules, that means they were already self-isolating, he said.

“Our public health measures … would hopefully stop that transmission chain right there,” Roussin said at a news conference.

Friday was the first day of further relaxed pandemic restrictions in Manitoba, which allowed a broad range of businesses to reopen at reduced capacity. 

It also marked three days since Manitoba announced its first case of the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. 

Roussin again warned that a failure to follow the rules could lead to increased spread — and tightened restrictions.

“We’re not out of this,” he said. “If we think we can just look in the other direction, we’re going to see those case numbers come up very quickly and we’re not going to have an alternative but to put the restrictions back on.”

WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin on Manitoba’s plan for COVID-19 variants:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said Friday public health officials are preparing for all coronavirus variants of concern — and others that may develop — to eventually make their way to the province. 0:51

Manitoba’s latest eased restrictions allow gyms, personal service businesses, museums, art galleries, libraries and places of worship to reopen with capacity limits.

Restaurants and lounges can also reopen at limited capacity, and are only permitted to serve people in household groups. 

The province said it plans to reduce COVID-19 restrictions gradually, with incremental change every three weeks. 

There were 25 new COVID-19 cases reported in the Northern Health Region on Friday and 20 in the Winnipeg health region. There were also five in the Interlake-Eastern health region and three in the Prairie Mountain Health region.

The deaths of four men from the Winnipeg health region who contracted COVID-19 were also announced on Friday. Two were in their 70s, one in his 80s and one in his 90s.

The latter was linked to the outbreak at Concordia Place personal care home, the province said in a news release.

Those deaths bring Manitoba’s total to 866.

There are now 240 COVID-19 patients in hospital in Manitoba, down by four from Thursday, with 29 of those people in intensive care, down by three.

Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate, a rolling average of the COVID-19 tests that come back positive, continues to drop. (Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

Outbreaks have been declared in Winnipeg at Seven Oaks General Hospital’s 3U 4-7 unit and the Riverview Health Centre, the release said.

Previously declared outbreaks are now over at four care homes in Winnipeg: the Poseidon Long Term Care Home, the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, the Golden Door Geriatric Centre and the Golden West Centennial Lodge.

There have now been 30,588 confirmed cases of COVID-19 detected in Manitoba, the province said in its news release, including 28,140 people now considered recovered.

Another 1,582 cases are still considered active, though health officials have said that number is inflated by a data entry backlog.

Manitoba has now administered 52,664 COVID-19 vaccines, bringing the proportion of its adult population fully vaccinated to 1.7 per cent, according to the province’s online vaccination dashboard.

There were 1,972 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Thursday, which brings the total number of swabs completed in the province to 497,691 since last February.

Some COVID-19 testing locations will have reduced hours for Louis Riel Day on Monday. That information is available on the province’s website.

Because of that holiday, there will be no COVID-19 bulletin or news conference on Monday. Both will resume on Tuesday.