Manitoba’s fight to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19 will ramp up Monday, as the province’s top doctor ordered a partial shutdown for the Winnipeg region after weeks of distressing daily case counts — including a record-shattering 480 on Friday.
In addition to pushing Manitoba over the 5,000 total case mark, the province had a troubling five-day test positivity rate of 8.6 per cent and three more deaths were recorded, raising the death toll to 65 since mid-March.
The province’s intensive care units were at 96 per cent capacity on Friday morning; 68 of the 71 critical care beds in Winnipeg were occupied. A record 104 people were in hospital fighting the disease, including 19 in intensive care.
“You can see just these numbers in the last week, the strain on our health care system, that we’re left with no choice,” chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said. “We have to deal with this virus and the transmission now.”
“We have to get things back under control here.”
As of Monday at 12:01 a.m., the Winnipeg metropolitan region will be elevated to red-critical on the pandemic response system, for two weeks.
Bars and restaurants can open for pickup or takeout only, recreation facilities, movie theatres, museums, galleries, libraries, concert halls and VLT lounges must close; and sports programs will be suspended. Grocery stores will continue to operate at 50 per cent capacity, and other retail stores can continue to operate at 25 per cent capacity.
Gyms and fitness centres have to reduce capacity to 25 per cent and masks are mandatory during exercising. Meanwhile, faith-based gatherings are reduced to 15 per cent capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.
The province encouraged employers in the Winnipeg region to have staff work from home.
“We need people to see how important this is,” Roussin said, adding the measures will be in place for at least two weeks. “We’re confident we’re going to start seeing these numbers come down as this incubation period stretches out.”
On Monday, the rest of the province will be elevated to the orange-restricted level and will have to limit group sizes to five, and restrict capacity to 50 per cent at restaurants and bars.
The new restrictions come on the heels of widespread community transmission, daily triple-digit increases in new cases, multiple COVID-19 outbreaks in vulnerable settings — including jails, personal care homes, hospitals and remote communities — and after a group of 11 physicians wrote a letter to the Manitoba government calling for a lockdown.
Roussin conceded measures implemented to date — including closing nightclubs and restricting alcohol service hours, moderate capacity reductions for retail sectors, and group size limits — have not been adequate.
“Now we’re left with further restrictions that do result in widespread closures, again short term,” Roussin said. “During a pandemic, you’re going to take those incremental steps to try to find that balance because all of these measures also have severe implications on people.
“So finding that balance is difficult,” he said. “In Winnipeg, we’re going to find it now.”
Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist and University of Manitoba professor, called Manitoba’s situation is demoralizing.
“Every metric that we have is going in the wrong direction. The unfortunate reality is there is no real option, other than to enact really heavy restrictions,” Kindrachuk said. “Is this going to be the thing that changes everything, this level of restrictions? I hope that something changes, but I don’t think we know yet.
Kindrachuk said at a point the spread of the novel coronavirus becomes exponential, and when people are in close proximity without taking precautions or have let their guard down, it can spread like fire.
“The virus basically got what it wanted,” he said. “That complacency, unfortunately, will catch up with us in these types of pandemics.”
New cases announced Friday include 42 in the Interlake-Eastern health region; 25 in the Northern region; 10 in Prairie Mountain; 94 in Southern Health; and 309 cases in Winnipeg.
The five-day test positivity rate in Winnipeg was 9.7 per cent but public health officials warned the denominator represented a smaller sample size.
(A backlog in data entry led to the record-high daily case count announcement, officials said. Of the 480 new cases, two were identified Sunday, four identified Monday, 44 identified Tuesday, 193 identified Wednesday, and 237 identified Thursday.)
Three more seniors connected to Parkview Place Long Term Care Home in downtown Winnipeg — the site of the province’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak — a man in his 80s, and two women in their 80s and 90s died after becoming infected with the virus.
After Roussin delivered the news Friday, Premier Brian Pallister, who was not at the news conference, released a written statement.
“We recognize the significant personal and professional sacrifices Manitobans have made to help protect themselves and their community,” Pallister said. “We are in this together, and I (am) confident we will get through this together.”
NDP Leader Wab Kinew encouraged Manitobans to think about abiding by the new restrictions as an act of love to help seniors, students, health care workers and patients get through this phase of the pandemic.
“It’s a very brutal truth that not everyone is going to make it through the pandemic, but our actions can today determine whether or not more people will survive the pandemic, whether or not more people will make it through the end of 2020,” Kinew said.
Also Friday, outbreaks were declared at a long term care unit in Deer Lodge Centre and at Pembina Place personal care home in Winnipeg, as well as Grandview personal care home in Dauphin. An outbreak was declared at Centre Scolaire Léo-Rémillard which has 14 cases associated with four cohorts.
— with files from Katie May