Brandon COVID-19 outbreak a setback, mayor says as mask use, gathering restrictions implemented

Reaction is mixed to the province's announcement on Thursday that more restrictions — and mask use requirements — will be implemented in southwestern Manitoba to help curtail a COVID-19 outbreak.

Masks will be mandatory in public places in the Prairie Mountain Health region starting Monday

Vehicles line up for blocks in downtown Brandon last week as people waited to take a COVID-19 test. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The province's announcement that more restrictions — and mask use requirements — will be implemented in southwestern Manitoba to help curtail a COVID-19 outbreak was met with mixed reactions in the region on Thursday.

Kathryn Giesbrecht, who has lived in Brandon for more than two decades, said she's noticed people letting their guard down in recent weeks.

"People were acting like, 'Oh, everything's back to normal,' and they weren't taking that precaution seriously," she said. "They weren't wearing masks, they weren't keeping their distance.

"They thought that they could do anything that they had done before the lockdown." 

Giesbrecht says she's been wearing a mask in public since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Manitoba.

She said while she has seen more people don face coverings in recent weeks, she was also frustrated by the number of large gatherings she's seen.

"If common sense was more common, we wouldn't have to be treated like children," she said. "We wouldn't have to have common sense mandated." 

The province announced restrictions under its new colour-coded COVID-19 risk assessment system for the Prairie Mountain Health region — which covers a wide swath of southwestern Manitoba, including Brandon — on Thursday.

Starting Monday, gathering sizes in the region will be limited to 10 people, whether indoors or outdoors, and face masks will be mandatory in public places.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said more clusters, a higher test positivity rate and a number of large potential exposures at beaches and parks in the region led to the decision to raise the region's response level to orange, or the "restricted" level in the new system. Earlier this month, he said Brandon was seeing what he described as "a fairly significant outbreak."

Roussin said the measures were needed before things get out of hand in the region.

Masks already mandatory at many businesses 

Spencer Day, president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, said while it wasn't the news he was hoping for, he believes it won't be a big change for people in the region.

"There's gonna be a certain amount of people that are going to welcome the changes on Monday, and there's gonna be some people that aren't as happy about it," he said. "Obviously it's going to affect some industries more than others. 

"But, you know, we have to get back to the fundamentals out here in Brandon."

Day said upwards of 80 businesses in Manitoba's second-largest city have already mandated mask usage, and he believes customers and staff are already used to wearing face coverings while indoors.

The new mask rules for Prairie Mountain also come just days after the province announced all Manitoba students in Grade 4 and up will be required to wear masks when school resumes in September.

"Obviously we've heard all the school news, all the back and forth this past week, and I know there's a lot of businesses out there that are really affected by this," he said.

"But we do need to kind of hunker down here and do these things, so we can get back to whatever our new normal was there a couple of weeks ago."

Outbreak a setback: mayor

Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest had hoped to see the trend of rising COVID-19 case numbers reverse.

"It pains me … and it's unfortunate that the cluster continues to grow," he said during a briefing on Thursday. 

Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest said while the recent outbreak is a setback, Brandon's response to COVID-19 overall has been impressive. (Warren Kay/CBC)

"I've been mostly proud, incredibly proud of our community during this pandemic," he said, noting Brandon's response in the spring was "spectacular", going some 70 days without reporting a new case of COVID-19. 

He described the situation as a setback and urged Brandonites to follow Dr. Roussin's orders to help curtail its spread. 

"It shows you how one case can slip in and really manifest itself into a cluster, or a number of clusters," Chrest said. 

"We, the community members, are responsible," Brian Kayes, the city's emergency co-ordinator, said on Thursday. "We rely on you to do the right thing." 

Support local 

Day urged Brandon residents to continue to support the business community, even as some modify their hours or services due to the outbreak.

"I still think it's up to each and every one of us, as individuals, as a citizen or as a business owner here," he said. "It's up to us to wear our masks and to socially distance and to take advantage of … the contactless deliveries or curbside pickups or whatever it is."

He said people still should feel comfortable visiting local businesses, knowing they are taking all the precautions they can to keep customers and staff safe.

Giesbrecht said she had a feeling restrictions like these would be imposed on Brandon, after seeing the number of social events and gatherings taking place. She said she feels validated, but for all the wrong reasons.

"I am very sad that my prediction came true," she said. "And I'm disappointed." 

Dr. Roussin said the Prairie Mountain measures will be in place for least two weeks — the length of COVID-19's estimated incubation period — though acknowledged it's likely they will stay for at least two incubation periods.


Riley Laychuk is CBC's reporter based in Brandon, covering rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback:

With files from Patrick Foucault and Caitlyn Gowirluk


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