Manitoba running out of 'targeted tools' to contain COVID-19 as province hits new daily record

Dr. Brent Roussin said targeted interventions are challenging due to community-based transmission in Winnipeg, which is seen across age groups and in a variety of venues.

Community-based transmission a challenge in Winnipeg as 124 new cases announced

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, speaks to the public in this file photo from March. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba's chief public health officer says the province is running out of "targeted tools" short of further lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Winnipeg.

Manitoba hit a new high for daily COVID-19 case reporting with 124 new cases on Tuesday, the first triple-digit tally and the third record-breaking day in less than a week. The vast majority of new cases — 95 of them — are in Winnipeg, said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer. 

"The challenge right now is, because we're seeing that community-based transmission in Winnipeg, it's really tough to have any more targeted interventions," Roussin said on Tuesday.

"We're seeing transmission in many age groups, seeing transmission occurring in different venues, within households, within gatherings."

Winnipeg hit a test positivity rate of 4.4 per cent on Tuesday, Roussin said, as Manitoba set a new record for the provincewide rate at 3.5 per cent. The test positivity rate is a rolling average of the proportion of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, and Roussin has said it's a critical metric in the virus's spread.

The provincewide test positivity rate hit a new record Tuesday at 3.5 per cent, while it is higher in Winnipeg at 4.4 per cent. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

The city has had 21 cases of community spread, or "non-epi-linked" cases — where a case can't be linked to a known transmission chain — in the past week, Roussin said. He implored Manitobans to follow public health advice, including staying home when ill.

Another lockdown isn't needed now since the health-care system is still keeping up with demand, Roussin said Tuesday. But climbing case counts and growing community transmission have strained contact tracing resources.

The demands of some "very complex" investigations have strained contact tracers, he said, as public health staff find cases of individuals with COVID-19 who have been to "multiple venues," even while symptomatic.

"We just cannot succeed in this pandemic if people are out and about when they're symptomatic," Roussin said.

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As cases climb, the chief provincial public health officer says Manitobans must reduce their number of close contacts and not go out when symptomatic: 'We just cannot succeed in this pandemic if people are out and about when they're symptomatic."

The province also announced a death on Tuesday — a man in his 70s from the rural east district in Southern Health. His death is the eighth COVID-19 death announced since Friday and the 35th in the province since the pandemic began.

In addition to the Winnipeg cases, there are 16 new cases in Interlake-Eastern, nine in Southern Health, three in Prairie Mountain Health and one in the Northern Health Region.

The new cases Tuesday include some that were identified over the long weekend — including 15 on Saturday and 83 on Sunday — but weren't previously announced due to a backlog, Roussin said. After a test comes back positive, public health follows a set process before announcing the case.

Additional staff were brought in and people did overtime to work through all the positive tests this weekend, he said. The backlog has now been cleared.

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Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said there doesn't need to be additional severe restrictions "locking people" and businesses down, so long as the public practises the fundamentals.

Outbreak at Headingley jail

The new cases come after a record-breaking week for COVID-19 in the province, as Manitoba matched or broke records for daily case counts, daily death announcements and the deadliest personal care home outbreak.

On Friday, Manitoba broke its record for the most new COVID-19 cases announced in a single day, with 84 new cases — only to beat it again on Saturday, with a new record high of 97 new cases. On both days, the vast majority of new cases were in Winnipeg.

Twice in the past week the province matched its record for COVID-19 deaths announced in a single day. Three deaths were announced on Wednesday, followed by three more on Friday. Four of the victims were linked to Winnipeg personal care homes, including three connected to a single outbreak at Parkview Place care home where seven people have died.

Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday that Manitoba is seeing transmission of the virus 'in many age groups.' (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

The province declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the Headingley Correctional Centre, one of three provincial jails where staff members have tested positive.

The site just outside of Winnipeg has been moved to the critical — or red — level in the province's pandemic response system. 

Seven inmates and two staff members at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19. Roughly 150 people linked to the jail are in self-isolation, Roussin said Tuesday.

The jail had 600 inmates as of Sept. 3, a provincial spokesperson said at the time. That exceeded the jail's capacity of 549, according to the province's website.

Another lockdown or a more surgical approach

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said another lockdown "has to be on the table."

"There's no indication that [cases are] going down because this government keeps sending two messages," he said. "They keep blaming people for actually doing the things they're encouraging them to do, go out shopping, go out to the bar, go out and drink."

Official Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he's heard from Manitobans that they want to see a more surgical approach.

"Maybe we don't have to do a full lockdown during the second wave," he said. "Maybe we could just say, well, this industry seems to be going through a bit of a hot spot right now. Let's target some new measures at them."

'Very rare' death in man in his 40s

Manitoba announced four COVID-19 deaths over the long weekend. All four were Winnipeggers, including the province's youngest person to die from the disease — a man in his 40s — and three women, in their 80s, 90s and 100s.

On Tuesday, Roussin said the man in his 40s did not have underlying health conditions, making his death from the disease "very rare."

Additional possible exposures were identified at four Winnipeg schools:

  • Winnipeg Adult Education Centre, 310 Vaughan St., on Oct. 5.
  • Daniel McIntyre Collegiate, 720 Alverstone St., on Sept. 29, 30 and Oct. 1.
  • Dakota Collegiate, 661 Dakota St. Exposure is from two cases, one on Oct. 6 and one on Oct. 5, 6 and 7. The cases are not believed to be linked.
  • Dufferin School, 545 Alexander Ave., on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.

The province announced a suite of new plans to reduce waits to get tested, including a new drive-thru site in Winnipeg at 1066 Nairn Ave. that opened Tuesday, and a move to offer appointment-based testing.

Manitoba lifted some restrictions for people travelling to the north of the province.

People headed north of the 53rd parallel to care for a seriously ill family member or friend, visit someone in hospital with a life-threatening illness or injury or attend a funeral do not have to self-isolate, as long as they don't have symptoms, Roussin said. Travellers who don't meet those criteria may self-isolate in the north.

There are currently 28 people with COVID-19 in Manitoba hospitals, including five in intensive care, Roussin said Tuesday.

Tuesday marked the third time within a week Manitoba set a record for daily case announcements. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Oct. 13, 2020:

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Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Tuesday, October 13, 2020