Health officials to ask Manitoba COVID-19 patients about ethnicity to see who's affected

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says information about patients' backgrounds will help health officials see whether certain groups are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

Responses voluntary, information held securely, chief nursing officer says

A nurse holds swabs and a test tube to test people for COVID-19 in this March file photo. Health workers in Manitoba will now ask people who test positive for COVID-19 to answer voluntary questions about their ethnicity. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

Health workers will now ask people who test positive for COVID-19 in Manitoba about their ethnicity to see whether the illness is affecting some groups more than others.

"We know that there is a number of conditions that can disproportionately affect people based on different things, such as income or ethnicity," Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.

Responses to questions about race, ethnicity and Indigenous identity are voluntary, and the information is held securely, Manitoba Shared Health Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said at the daily briefing about COVID-19 in Manitoba, where the change was announced.

The information can help make sure the province's pandemic response doesn't exclude anyone, she said.

Siragusa said Manitoba has been working toward collecting the data for a while, including consulting with First Nations communities to create an agreement on how it will be done — although the province has had the ability to ask these questions since it did its first tests for COVID-19 earlier this year.

It's common for contact-tracing staff to ask for that information when looking into transmission of other viruses, Roussin said.

"It's certainly not unique to COVID," he said. "It all begins with accurate data collection."

There are four new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba, bringing the total to 279, Roussin said at the news conference.

Only 38 of those cases are considered active, Roussin said.

Lanette Siragusa and Dr. Brent Roussin have been giving public updates on COVID-19 in Manitoba almost daily since the first cases were detected in March. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The new cases are three men in their 30s and a woman in her 70s.

Roussin said the province chose to allow restaurant patios to reopen — but still advises against visiting friends and family — because if people are going to visit with others, they should do it outside, where the risk of spreading the virus is lower.

He said it's also important for people to find ways to stay in touch with loved ones during the pandemic.

"This virus isn't the only thing that affects people's health," he said.

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A spokesperson for Shared Health said there have been 25 cases of health-care workers getting COVID-19 in Manitoba, including one in the Prairie Mountain Health region who contracted it within the past week.

Nineteen of those people have recovered. There were also eight health-care workers in Manitoba who got the illness through travel and developed symptoms while self-isolating.

The 25 cases involve 10 nurses, four medical staff and 11 workers from other health and support areas, the spokesperson said.

From April 22 to April 27, a total of 601 health-care workers in Manitoba were tested for COVID-19.

Staff are no longer allowed to work in more than one licensed personal care home in the province — a public health restriction announced earlier that's intended to prevent the spread of the virus among vulnerable people living in those homes.

Health officials said all 127 personal care homes in the province have confirmed they are ready and have staff in place to adjust to the restriction.

Easier access for negative results coming

People who test negative for COVID-19 will soon be able to access their test results online.

The province is creating a secure online portal that will be available next week. Manitobans will get information about how to register and access their results when they are tested.

People will need a Manitoba health card to access those results online. For people who don't have one or can't access the internet, there will also be a toll-free number available early next week that will do the same thing.

People who test positive for COVID-19 will still be notified directly by public health officials.

People who test negative for COVID-19 in Manitoba will soon be able to access their results online or by phone. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Another drive-thru COVID-19 testing site is open in Swan River, Man., at the Manitoba Public Insurance building at 125 Fourth Ave. N. That site will be open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The province also is planning a new testing site at Thunderbird House in downtown Winnipeg. That site will help make sure more people experiencing homelessness or who use shelters in Winnipeg have access to testing, health officials said.

There also will be a new mobile testing service for people with limited mobility available in the next two weeks.

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There are currently five people in hospital with the illness, none of them in intensive care — marking Manitoba's third consecutive day with no COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

The number of Manitobans with COVID-19 who have died is still six.

On Thursday, 689 tests for COVID-19 were done at the Cadham Provincial Laboratory. That brings the total number of tests done in Manitoba to 25,402.

While Premier Brian Pallister announced this week some restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Manitoba will be lifted starting Monday, health officials said people still need to practise physical distancing and avoid unnecessary travel.

The province is now trying to communicate that message to campers and cottagers by putting portable signs and education stops on certain highway routes in Manitoba, encouraging people to be mindful of the rules and recommendations still in place.

The "COVID careful" campaign will also include materials that can be put up in car and cottage windows and messages on social media.

Roussin said one number the province will keep a close eye on to see the effect of reopening is the average number of weekly active cases of COVID-19 that result from community transmission. Right now, he said that number is nine.

A sign at the U.S.-Canada border crossing at Emerson, Man., on March 24 warns returning travellers to stay home for two weeks after they get to Manitoba. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

As some parts of Manitoba start to reopen, the province will stay focused on educating people who break the rules by giving out warnings, Roussin said — but he did not rule out hiring additional inspectors or conservation officers if enforcement needs to be expanded.

Roussin also asked people to avoid the temptation posed by garage sales as the weather starts to warm and public health restrictions start to ease.

"We need to keep our guards up. We need to continue to deal with this virus," he said. "Now is not the time to be having or to be attending garage sales."

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