4 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Manitoba, chief provincial public health officer says

The province has nearly tripled the capacity for Health Links to answer calls, and will open new test sites, tap retired health-care workers, boost screening and consider scaling back on elective surgeries to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, health officials said Saturday.

All 4 cases travel-related; still no evidence of community transmission in Manitoba, says Dr. Brent Roussin

At a news conference on Saturday morning, Dr. Brent Roussin said all four confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Manitoba are believed to have been contracted outside the province. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

All four cases of COVID-19 identified in Manitoba have now been confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab, Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference Saturday morning.

No new cases were announced Saturday morning.

The province announced its first three presumptive cases of COVID-19 on March 12. A fourth case was announced on March 13. Cases are considered presumptive until they are confirmed by the national lab.

There has been no evidence in Manitoba of community transmission — meaning transmission by someone who did not contract the virus while travelling — Roussin said at the briefing.

All four confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province are believed to have been contracted through travel, he said.

About 1,200 people have been tested for the virus in Manitoba.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | March 14, 2020:

Manitoba government daily briefing on coronavirus: March 14

2 years ago
Duration 30:09
Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: March 14, 2020.

Last week, the province started checking to see if any respiratory samples sent in for testing have traces of COVID-19, he said.

"That's how we're going to pick up on early signals of community-based transmission," he said.

Roussin said there are now about 500 tests for the virus being done in Manitoba every day, and reminded people to only get tested if they show symptoms and have either travelled internationally or been in close contact with a confirmed case. 

Boosting resources, test sites

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health, said the province has nearly tripled the capacity of Health Links, the province's telephone health information service, which is being used to screen people with symptoms of COVID-19.

The service can now handle more than 100 callers at a time, but the average wait time is still about 65 minutes, Siragusa said, with anywhere from 700 to 1,000 calls coming in every day.

She said they're working on speeding up the queue, and more staff are being trained and moved into Health Links every day. In the coming week, the province also hopes to introduce a virtual solution for people to triage themselves online, Siragusa said.

The Fort Garry Access centre is one of the sites where people in Winnipeg who show symptoms can go to be tested for COVID-19. (John Einarson/CBC)

There are also plans in the works to expand COVID-19 screening locations to include rural and northern Manitoba. Siragusa said the province hopes to open more locations outside the city within a week.

"This should balance out an anticipated rise in the number of health-care workers self-isolating or having child-care issues related to the coming closure of public schools," Siragusa said. The province said Friday that classes at Manitoba's K-12 schools will be suspended for three weeks (including the spring break) as of March 23.

Roussin said the province is also considering whether to close daycares, but hasn't made any recommendations yet. 

The four clinics in Winnipeg that are set up to screen patients for COVID-19 saw more than 600 people in their first two days, Siragusa said.

As well, starting Sunday, entrances at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre campus will be restricted to make sure screening happens as people come in.

There is also a new testing clinic for low-acuity patients — those who don't need critical care immediately — in HSC's William Avenue mall, where people can be tested for COVID-19 and the flu.

Starting Sunday, people will be screened as they enter Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre campus, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health. There is also a new COVID-19 and flu testing clinic in its William Avenue mall. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The province is also considering scaling back elective surgeries for kids and adults at the Health Sciences Centre in the future, Siragusa said, but it is not recommending cancelling non-urgent surgeries yet.

"We know that normally when we go through flu season, that is always an issue that we face," she said. "As we make that decision, we will contact the patients and let them know."

Siragusa said there's been lots of interest from people — from doctors and nurses to students to retired health-care workers — wanting to know how they can help. She said the province is planning to take them up on their offer once their human resources intake process is complete.

"We will be putting out the call very shortly where our priority areas are," said Siragusa. "We are very grateful for that."