Public may have been exposed to highly transmissible coronavirus variant at 3 Winnipeg locations

People in Winnipeg might have been exposed to a highly contagious coronavirus variant at three locations last weekend, the province says in a news release.

91 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths linked to illness also announced Thursday

A lab worker tests COVID-19 samples in this file photo. Manitoba has completed more than 540,000 tests for the illness since early February 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

People in Winnipeg might have been exposed to a highly contagious coronavirus variant last weekend, the province says in a news release.

The possible public exposures to two probable cases of the B117 variant first identified in the U.K. happened on the following days at these locations:

  • March 5 – Silver Heights Restaurant at 2169 Portage Ave. in Winnipeg from 5 to 7 p.m.
  • March 6 – Chicken Chef Restaurant at Unicity Mall, 3770 Portage Ave. in Winnipeg from 5 to 7 p.m. 
  • March 6 – Garden City Hairstylists in the Garden City Shopping Centre at #143-2305 McPhillips St. in Winnipeg from noon to 12:30 p.m.

Anyone worried they were potentially exposed should call Health Links at 204-788-8200 or 1-888-315-9257 (toll-free) to see if they need to be tested for COVID-19, the release says.

A spokesperson for the province said the two probable cases of the B117 variant and their close contacts are self-isolating and waiting for confirmed test results to determine whether their cases are in fact that variant.

No further details will be given for privacy reasons, the spokesperson said.

The total number of variant cases identified in Manitoba remains 22: 11 of the variant first discovered in the U.K. and 11 of the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa.

Of those 22 cases, eight are linked to travel and 11 are close contacts of known cases. Contact tracers don't know how or where the other three people got the variant, the provincial spokesperson said.

"We are continuing with case investigations, particularly for the unknown acquisition cases, and will notify the public if there is widespread risk identified," they said.

"At this time, there is no evidence of widespread community transmission of either variant of concern but investigations continue."

Aggressive contact tracing, testing needed: expert

With fewer known cases than several other provinces, Manitoba is still in a position to keep the spread of more infectious coronavirus variants at bay, said Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. 

And while those cases are likely only a portion of what's out there, Hota said, the goal for the province is straightforward:

Keep the number of cases that could already be here as contained as possible with aggressive contact tracing and testing of variant cases while it buys time to vaccinate more people against COVID-19.

Dr. Susy Hota is the medical director of infection prevention and control for University Health Network in Toronto. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

"There may very well be some community spread that we don't know about," she said.

"But I think it's a matter of, 'How contained can we keep that?' Because what we don't want is for this variant to be able to spread unmitigated from person to person and [for] us [to] not get the vaccine out quickly enough to try and impact that."

Though being exposed to a variant case is potentially more concerning than a regular COVID-19 exposure, it also depends on what those interactions looked like, she said.

"There's always the important details around how symptomatic a person was, what stage of the infection it was at the time that those exposures occurred and what kind of … interaction with others was involved," Hota said.

Highest case count in over 2 weeks

The province also reported 91 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths linked to the illness.

The last time that many cases were announced in a day in Manitoba was on Feb. 22 — more than two weeks ago — when 97 were reported.

More than half of the new cases — 50 — are in the Northern Health Region, the release says.

There are also 31 new cases in the Winnipeg health region, while the remaining new infections are split between the Southern Health region (with seven cases), the Prairie Mountain Health region (with two) and the Interlake-Eastern health region (with one).

The latest deaths, which bring Manitoba's total to 911, included two women from the Winnipeg health region: one in her 60s and one in her 90s. The latter was linked to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Actionmarguerite St. Boniface personal care home.

A man in his 70s from the Northern Health Region has also died after contracting COVID-19, the release says.

Manitoba's five-day test positivity rate dropped slightly to 3.7 per cent, down from 3.8. In Winnipeg, that rate also dropped to 2.7 per cent, from 2.9.

There are now 156 COVID-19 patients in hospital, down by six from Wednesday. Twenty-two of those people are in intensive care, up by one.

Three previously announced cases were removed from Manitoba's total due to data correction, bringing the province's total to 32,509.

Of those, 30,394 people have been deemed recovered and 1,204 cases are still considered active, though health officials have said that number may be inflated by a data entry backlog.

Previously declared outbreaks in Winnipeg at St. Boniface Hospital's A5 unit and Seven Oaks General Hospital's 3U1-1 unit are both over, the release says.

There were 2,116 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Wednesday, bringing the total number of swabs completed in the province since early February 2020 to 544,042. 


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