Manitoba moves out of code red as COVID-19 numbers fall again
Province reports 85 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death on Friday
Manitoba is moving out of code red for the first time in seven months.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, announced Friday that Manitoba is moving to the orange, or restricted, level of its pandemic response system.
"Manitobans worked hard and made sacrifices to make this happen," Atwal said, reporting 85 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death on Friday.
Winnipeg went to the critical red level of the province's pandemic response system on Nov. 2, and was followed by the rest of the province on Nov. 12, as officials struggled to control a rising tide of cases.
On Nov. 12, the province announced 474 new cases and nine deaths and the seven-day average daily case count was 373.
As of Friday, the seven-day average is 100, the lowest since April 8, when it was 89. The highest seven-day average of the 15-month pandemic was 482, on May 22.
WATCH | Dr. Jazz Atwal on move to orange level on pandemic response system:
Friday's daily count of new cases saw the numbers fall back below the 100 after two days of being above that century mark.
The death is a man in his 70s from the Southern Health region, linked to the B.1.1.7 (alpha) variant of concern. The total number of deaths of Manitobans linked to COVID-19 is now 1,135, including 143 related to variants of concern.
Of the 85 cases, the Winnipeg health region has 53. The Interlake-Eastern health region has 10, the Southern Health region has nine, the Northern Health Region has eight and the Prairie Mountain Health region has five.
The daily caseload isn't the only statistic that has gone down.
The current five-day test positivity rate is 5.9 per cent provincially (down from 6.4 on Thursday) and 6.5 per cent in Winnipeg (down from 6.7).
The number of Manitobans in hospital due to COVID-19 has sunk below the 200 mark for the first time since early May. There are currently 197 being treated, which includes 66 patients in ICUs: 54 in Manitoba, 11 in Ontario and one in Alberta.
Hospitalization numbers have been steadily dropping throughout the week. Friday saw a decline of 15 from Thursday, which in turn had fallen 10 from Wednesday.
There were 258 Manitobans in hospital a week ago.
Manitoba reported 67 newly identified cases of more infectious coronavirus variants on its provincial variant dashboard, while recoveries from variant infections improved by 52. For the first time in months, the number of active cases related to variants has dropped below 1,000.
There are currently 963 people who are considered to have active variant cases.
Restrictions loosen Saturday
Work is underway to develop essential-care partner and visitor guidelines for acute care and long-term care facilities under the new code orange status, Atwal said.
The change from red to orange is reflected in what the next public health orders allow, he said, adding that face masks are still required in all indoor public places.
As a result of surpassing a target of 70 per cent of Manitobans with one vaccine dose and 25 per cent with two, the provincial government announced it will loosen some restrictions in a new round of public health orders that become effective 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.
As of Friday, 72.2 per cent of Manitobans age 12 or older have a first vaccine dose, according to the province's vaccination dashboard, while 32.9 per cent have two doses.
The newest orders are set to expire at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 2. They allow expanded freedoms for fully vaccinated people, increased gathering sizes, and some types of businesses to reopen at limited capacity for the first time in nearly seven weeks.
They also allow numerous indoor and outdoor activities to resume.
'Power to change your life'
There was another point during code red when the province considered moving into orange and reopening more services and activities.
In late February and into March, there were a number of days with case counts in the 50s and 60s. But things went sideways by the end of the month, with daily numbers soaring from 59 on April 1 to 181 two days later.
Some health experts have expressed concern about the same thing happening again as the highly contagious B.1617.2 variant, now named delta, takes hold.
The next target date in the province's reopening plan is the Terry Fox Day long weekend in August. That's when officials aim to have at least 75 per cent of eligible people immunized with a first dose and 50 per cent with a second dose.
If the province reaches that goal, capacity limits on businesses are expected to increase to 50 per cent.
The third phase of reopening will follow on Labour Day, if 80 per cent of Manitobans have one dose and 75 per cent have two.
Friday was also the first day that all Manitobans became eligible for a second COVID-19 vaccine dose — as long as at least 28 days have passed since the first shot.
"Getting vaccinated has the power to change your life. It has the power to start returning your life back to what it looked like before the pandemic," Atwal said, pointing out fully vaccinated Manitobans will be exempt from self-isolation after travelling within Canada and will be able to attend sporting events.
He had no details on capacity limits for large sporting events, saying that will be determined on a case-by-case basis with each organization.
Data shows approximately 350 hospitalizations from June 1-20. Almost 80 per cent of those individuals had not been vaccinated, or received a positive test less than 14 days after a first dose, Atwal said.
WATCH | Dr. Jazz Atwal on vaccination rates across Manitoba:
More than 12,000 doses are expected to be administered at the RBC Convention Centre supersite on Monday alone, which Atwal said would mark a new Canadian record.
"Until now, the single largest clinic day in Canada was 10,470 at a Toronto clinic," he said.
To dole out 12,000 not only demonstrates an efficient system, it also shows "Manitobans are keen to get vaccinated and help end the pandemic."
State of emergency extended
Atwal was asked why areas in southern Manitoba where the vaccine uptake is extremely low, such as the rural municipality of Stanley (17.5 per cent), which surrounds Winkler, or the RM of Hanover (35.6), which surrounds Steinbach, are allowed to reopen.
He insisted the numbers in those areas are improving day by day and the province is working with several partners, including community leaders, to encourage vaccination.
"Manitoba, collectively, has done well with vaccine uptake and … it was felt at this point that we could open up the restrictions and not have regional differences.
"We're going to monitor that situation on an ongoing basis to see where cases do generate and what we can do to mitigate that issue."
Atwal was also asked to clarify the reasons behind a reopening rule that says customers at restaurants or patios must order food, and cannot just go for alcohol.
"We just can't open everything up," he said, suggesting the province doesn't want people to over-imbibe and get careless around public health orders.
"This virus likes those interactions.… We still want to behave, so we're limiting those interactions."
Atwal said he expects to see an increase of cases come fall, as people begin interacting with one another more. It's hard to predict whether Manitoba will see another tightening of restrictions, he said.
"This is a novel virus. We've learned a lot of things from it and then the virus changed on us.… It continues to change and evolve. There's always that chance things get worse again," he said.
"There's no way of saying it'll never happen but the more we do now, the more people that get vaccinated, the more that we adhere to the messaging and the orders, the greater chance there is of that not happening."
The province also announced Friday that Manitoba's state of emergency — which gives the province more powers to respond to the pandemic — will be extended again for a period of 30 days, effective June 27.
The province has been under a state of emergency since March 20, and has renewed it every month.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | June 25, 2021: