Manitoba children, teens 'the most quickly growing cohorts' with COVID-19, top doctor says

There are increasing COVID-19 cases among Manitobans between the ages of 10 and 19, Manitoba's top doctor said on Monday — in large part because of out-of-school gatherings.

Roussin says virus transmission most often happening at gatherings like house parties, play dates, sleepovers

More and more Manitobans between the ages of 10 and 19 are contracting COVID-19, Dr. Brent Roussin says. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

COVID-19 cases among Manitobans between the ages of 10 and 19 are increasing, Manitoba's top doctor said on Monday — in large part because of out-of-school gatherings.

"Our contact tracing investigations are showing that people are holding larger gatherings in their private residences. We're seeing house parties, we're seeing play dates, we're seeing sleepovers. We're seeing cases with many more contacts than we saw in recent past, and we're seeing this contribute to the transmission of the virus," Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said on Monday.

"We do know that some of the most quickly growing cohorts of cases is the 10-19 age group, and most of this is not gatherings in school, it's gatherings outside of school."

A spokesperson for the province said Manitobans in that age bracket made up 12.08 per cent of cases prior to the beginning of March of this year.

However, 10-19 year olds made up 16.6 per cent of cases detected between March 1 and April 11 — an increase of 37 per cent.

Dr. Brent Roussin says more restrictions, including an outdoor mask mandate and cracking down on private gatherings, may be coming in light of growing COVID-19 numbers in the province. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

The only age bracket that had a higher percentage of cases during that time period was 20-29 year olds, who accounted for 20.4 per cent of the caseload.

That's a jump of 9.8 per cent from the period prior to March 2021, during which that group made up 18.62 per cent of cases.

Also of note, children four and under accounted for 6.6 per cent of the recent cases — a 66.6 per cent jump — and children 5-9 made up 7.8 per cent of cases, a huge increase of 73.3 per cent from their percentage during the first year of the pandemic.

Roussin says Manitobans need to keep contacts low, maintain distance and wear masks as the province battles rising case numbers.

"Over these last couple of weeks, we've seen that we've, again, lost sight of that. We've seen a lot of preventable transmission. A lot of transmission that occurred in gatherings that aren't consistent with the public health orders," he said.

Although public health officials have stressed that young people don't often experience severe outcomes of COVID-19, Roussin says virus transmission doesn't stay within an age bracket.

WATCH | Dr. Roussin on contact tracing findings:

Dr. Brent Roussin says contact tracing is showing more people having large gatherings, sleepovers, indoor contacts

1 year ago
Duration 1:58
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said Monday the province's public health teams are finding more COVID-19 contacts linked to indoor gatherings such as sleepovers and playdates, as well as transmission linked to faith-based gatherings.

"These outbreaks, they're all the same. They're going to start in a certain area if we're unable to keep with the fundamentals, we're going to see it transmitting in other areas," he said.

"In the early second wave when we saw the vast majority of the transmission occurring in those younger cohorts, 20-29, but we know it's not going to stay there for long, it's going to get into other cohorts."

No talk of remote learning

Roussin says students will stay in class for the time being.

There is just one school outbreak in the province, he says, and not a lot of viral transmission within the walls of the school.

"A lot of the safeguards that have been in place in the schools have been effective, and right now that transmission in the younger groups we're seeing really outside of the school setting, in gatherings," Roussin said.

He says Manitobans have the tools to prevent further spread of the virus. Following the fundamentals is still key.

"The third wave is here. How hard it hits us is really up to us."

'It's not the dance community'

On Monday, Roussin said that it seems Manitobans are acting as though, just because some indoor activities are allowed, that means large gatherings are allowed again too — which is not the case.

"Individuals are able to go to a dance class to try to get that benefit — and we know that the people have worked very hard in those scenarios to try to reduce the risk of transmission," he said.

"But then that's taken that they can then have a gathering with people in their home and having a sleepover and/or a large party."

Faith-based gatherings were also cited as events that lead to significant transmission of COVID-19.

Shauna Jurczak, owner and director of Maples Academy of Dance in Winnipeg, watched Monday's news conference and was little taken aback that dancing was specified.

"I shook my head a little going, 'It's not the dance community that's doing this.' No one is thinking you go to dance class and then therefore have a family party," said Jurczak.

"The implications of that comment, they stung a little bit. I won't lie."

Given Roussin warned that tighter public health restrictions could be on the horizon, Jurczak is unsure exactly what that means for her industry.

It could just be a warning, she said, but in the meantime her studio will continue practising the protocols it has in place.

With a looming third wave of COVID-19, Jurczak urges other Manitobans to follow public health rules as well.