2 more COVID-19 screening sites open in Winnipeg as Manitoba tries to 'flatten the curve' of new cases

The Manitoba government is opening two additional sites in Winnipeg to screen for coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of sites to four.

Province 'strongly recommends' against large gatherings, warns travel anywhere could lead to self-isolation

The province now has four sites open for coronavirus testing in Winnipeg, including one at Access Winnipeg West. (John Einarson/CBC )

Manitoba has opened two additional COVID-19 screening centres in Winnipeg for patients exhibiting symptoms of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, doubling the total number of sites to four.

At noon Friday, the Mount Carmel Clinic on Main Street and Access Transcona on Regent Avenue W. began screening people suffering from respiratory symptoms.

Provincial health officials announced the new screening centres Friday, during the first of what will be daily COVID-19 briefings.

The two added screening centres joined Access Winnipeg West on Booth Drive and Access Fort Garry on Plaza Drive as Winnipeg's COVID-19 screening sites.

All four are open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Only people who require screening or testing for symptoms of COVID-19 should head to these sites, chief provincial health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said. People should be referred to these sites and walk-in traffic is discouraged, he added.

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Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, says travel anywhere — including the US — could lead to self isolation when you return.

If symptomatic patients wish to present themselves at other health-care facilities, they must call ahead, he added.

More screening sites will be added outside Winnipeg, said Lanette Siragusa, Manitoba's chief nursing officer and the provincial lead on health systems integration quality.

"I expect that after the four are set up in Winnipeg, we'll be looking at the next ones being in rural or northern Manitoba and potentially drive-through options, looking at whatever meets the needs of the community," she said.

The province said Thursday it had identified the first three presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba.

The first case has now been confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab on Arlington Street in Winnipeg. The other two are awaiting results but are expected to be confirmed, Roussin said.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, and Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health, gave an update on coronavirus in Winnipeg Friday morning. (Jaison Empson/CBC )

The province is also is attempting to meet demand on the Health Links telephone information line (204-788-8200, or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257).

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the service went from 34 phone lines on Thursday to 104 on Friday. Siragusa said the scripts Health Links staff follow with callers are now shorter, and the province is providing additional equipment.

Additional staff are being trained to work for the service to increase its capacity, she said, after lines were busy most of Thursday.

Cancel gatherings of more than 250: Roussin

Roussin continued to recommend social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19 and help "flatten the curve" of new cases in order to reduce the rate at which it spreads and lessen the load on health-care services.

Everyone must do their part and that means changing behaviour, the chief medical officer said.

He issued a "strong recommendation" to cancel or postpone gatherings of more than 250 people. Right now, COVID-19 appears to be transmitted mainly by symptomatic patients in close contact with other people.

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Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Friday, March 13, 2020.

"This virus has spread almost exclusively through close contact with infected individuals who are showing symptoms — usually cough, fever and other respiratory symptoms —so we can protect ourselves by limiting close prolonged contact with other individuals. And that's the whole basis behind social distancing strategies," Roussin said.

"Every time a sick individual decides to stay home, that's somebody doing their part to protect Manitobans from the spread of this virus. Every time an organization cancels a large event, that's an example of someone doing their part to limit the spread of this virus in Manitoba."

No one who has returned from travel anywhere within the last two weeks should visit a personal care home, he added.

Schools to close

Manitoba will also close public schools for three weeks, beginning March 23. Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said this will allow the province to get ahead of the virus.

Earlier Friday, Roussin said that could be counterproductive, as kids could gather in large groups elsewhere or keep parents at home that may be required to work in health care.

"Closing schools has been shown to be somewhat effective in the past, but it has large implications," Roussin said.

"Not all kids will be able to just stay home and so they may be coalescing in other places. They might have impacts on, say, workforce [or] health care, if people need to stay home with their kids."

Roussin advised against any non-essential business travel and suggested meetings be held remotely if at all possible.

He also advised against any international travel, including to the U.S., because it's possible travellers may be required to self-isolate when they return.

"Consider that by the time you return, it is very likely that you're going to be asked to self-isolate for 14 days if you decide to travel internationally. So please take caution," he said. "Please make informed decisions before deciding to travel."

Roussin also advised caution on travel within Canada, as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in other provinces.

Focus on screening, testing

As of March 11, Manitoba had completed 403 tests for COVID-19, up from 97 a week earlier, the province said.

There were about 500 more tests done on March 12, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Thursday. 

The results of positive tests will be disclosed to patients within one or two days, Siragusa said. Patients who don't hear back should assume their tests are negative, she added.

The province is working toward allowing patients who don't hear back to inquire about their tests through Health Links.

"Quite honestly, it's never really been our process that we would call people if there's a negative result," she said. "Just knowing that people are sitting at home, self-isolated, we are going to ramp that [up]."

Siragusa said the province is preparing for more cases. Manitoba has completed an inventory of all the respirators, intensive-care-unit beds and negative-pressure rooms available in the health-care system, she said.

The province also has a plan to deploy staff, Siragusa said. Right now, the focus is on screening and testing for the novel coronavirus, but that would shift to care if the number of cases rises, she said.

Roussin also recommended against "fear and panic buying."