72 COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, but total number 'not the only indication of how we're doing': top doctor

"An important number to look at, that we're going to start trying to find a way to report, is the rate of increase," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference on Sunday, where eight new cases were announced. "Because that's what's going to tell us what's flattening our curve or not."

1 person in intensive care unit, another in hospital: chief provincial public health officer

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, speaks during a COVID-19 update at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg on March 26. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Compared to the jump of 25 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the eight cases announced on Sunday might have caused some Manitobans to breathe a sigh of relief.

But the province's top doctor says the total number of cases related to the coronavirus shouldn't be the only thing you pay attention to.

"This is the issue with our total numbers is that they can only go up, so we will expect them to go up," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference on Sunday.

"That's not the only indication of how we're doing against this virus."

Roussin said other figures — ones that show how many people have recovered from COVID-19, or how quickly new cases are being detected — are what can help flesh out the bigger picture of how the virus is spreading in Manitoba.

"An important number to look at, that we're going to start trying to find a way to report, is the rate of increase," he said. "Because that's what's going to tell us what's flattening our curve or not."

2 Manitobans recovered

Roussin said two Manitobans, out of the total 72 cases detected in the province, have recovered from the virus so far.

He said that's another number he expects to see go up.

Roussin also spoke about a group of Manitoba researchers looking into the possibility that a drug used to treat malaria could be beneficial for COVID-19 patients.

WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin on the Manitoba clinical trial testing if a malaria drug could help COVID-19 patients:

Dr. Roussin talks about a clinical trial looking at using malaria drug to treat COVID-19

CBC News Manitoba

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Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin talks about a new Manitoba clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of using hydroxychloroquine, which has been used for malaria and other conditions, to treat COVID-19. 1:16

Officials are still looking into the new cases announced Sunday to determine where those people got the virus and whether they could have passed it to anyone else. Roussin said there's still no evidence of community spread, since all cases so far were found to be linked to travel or close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

One of Manitoba's COVID-19 patients is in an intensive care unit, and another has been admitted to hospital, Roussin said.

Manitoba now has 72 probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19, as of Mar. 29, 2020. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

The total number of deaths from the virus reported in Manitoba remains at one: a Winnipeg woman in her 60s, who died after she was admitted to an intensive care unit in critical condition.

Too early to see if curve flattening

Manitoba Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said so far, Manitoba's COVID-19 curve seems fairly low still.

"We know that there have been two admissions to critical care. We have had one death and we have one [other] patient in hospital right now. So that to us is pretty flat," she said. 

Roussin said that means it's still too early to tell what effect the province's efforts are having on the virus's spread — so Manitobans need to keep practising physical distancing.

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"We're still in a bit of containment right now and case finding. If we look at a jurisdiction like B.C., where they have over 800 cases, then they can do some modelling to show that their interventions have been having an effect," he said. 

"We'll continue to be aggressive in our social distancing strategies. Absolutely that's our goal, is to flatten that curve."

Siragusa also lauded communities across the province for staying connected and encouraging each other while still practising physical distancing.

WATCH | Lanette Siragusa talks about acts of kindness in a rural Manitoba town amid the COVID-19 pandemic:

Lanette Siragusa talks about acts of kindness in Altona

CBC News Manitoba

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Chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa shares stories about acts of kindness in Altona, including people putting pictures in their windows and kids writing encouraging messages in sidewalk chalk to cheer people up during a difficult time. 0:46

Siragusa said while the number of people showing up in Manitoba emergency rooms or needing critical care is relatively low, she's staying cautious.

"As we look at it, the rates and the growth in other jurisdictions, I think Manitoba's pretty good," she said. "But we still have to be vigilant."

On Friday, a record 919 tests were completed in Manitoba, bringing the provincial total to 7,147. Health officials did not provide updated numbers to include how many tests were done on Saturday.

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Roussin reiterated that the measures the province has taken under the Public Health Act will come into effect on Monday, including limiting public gatherings to 10 people and requiring retail businesses like grocery stores to make sure people are one to two metres apart.

These new measures bolster what was previously only a recommendation.

Roussin also repeated that a community testing site will open Monday in Pine Falls at École Powerview School. It will be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Watch the full news conference here:

Manitoba government daily briefing on coronavirus: March 29

CBC News Manitoba

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Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Sunday, March 29, 2020. 37:03