Manitoba tops 3% COVID-19 test positivity rate as 25 new cases identified

There are 25 new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba on Wednesday as the province marks its highest test positivity rate since the beginning of the pandemic.

3 more possible coronavirus exposure locations in Brandon, Wasagaming

An employee holds a clipboard while speaking to a person in their vehicle at a COVID-19 test site on Main Street in Winnipeg. As of Wednesday morning, 129,409 tests for the illness had been completed in Manitoba. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba's five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is now 3.1 per cent, health officials say, the highest proportion of tests that have come back positive in the province since the beginning of the pandemic.

There were 25 new cases announced on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases in Manitoba to 408 — and marking the first time the province's active caseload has surpassed 400, according to the government's online COVID-19 data portal.

The test positivity rate is high because of positive results related to targeted testing in known clusters in Manitoba, the province's daily news release says.

Among Wednesday's new cases, there are nine in the Winnipeg health region, eight in the Prairie Mountain Health region and one in the Interlake-Eastern health region, the release says.

There are also seven new cases in the Southern Health region, including one linked to the outbreak at the Bethesda Place personal care home in Steinbach, Man., the release says. The province did not say whether the new case is a resident, staff member or family member at the care home, where a resident with COVID-19 recently died.

A total of eight people connected to the care home are now confirmed to have contracted the virus, the release says. Three of those cases are residents, including the woman who died, and four are workers, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said on the weekend.

One of those staff members is a nurse, the Manitoba Nurses Union has confirmed.

Officials are still investigating the new cases, and will only give more information if there's a risk to public health, the release says.

Manitoba's test positivity rate reached its highest point on Wednesday. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

This is the first time the test positivity rate has passed three per cent in Manitoba, which Roussin has previously said would suggest significant community-based transmission and could lead the province to bring back restrictions to slow the virus's spread.

On Monday, Roussin said that's still on the table — but he downplayed the significance of the record high rate.

"It's a bit skewed when a huge part of that positive test proportion is related to tight clusters," he said.

"It's a bit misleading, that number, when it's this high."

While the test positivity rate is an important factor to follow, things like hospitalizations, deaths and changes in patterns of how the virus is spreading are equally important to note, said Winnipeg-based epidemiologist Cynthia Carr.

In Manitoba, patterns have changed dramatically in recent weeks to involve more cases linked to communal living settings, Carr said.

Roussin's three per cent threshold — which is still lower than the World Health Organization's goal to keep that rate below five per cent — only works as a reliable indicator of community spread if cases are scattered across the province, she said.

"That's where he wants to be in control, if it's community-based spread, but it's not. It's quite defined clusters, and he can see where it is. So within those specific areas, the positive test rate would be much higher," said Carr, the founder of EPI Research Inc.

With cases in specific communal living settings in Manitoba making up a significant chunk of the province's active caseload — as of Monday, more than one-third were linked to groups such as Hutterite colonies and care homes — they make the overall positivity rate shoot up in a way that doesn't accurately reflect the spread of the virus elsewhere, she said.

"An easy example would be: [If] you and I and Bill Gates are in a room, what's our average income? Well, that average income probably doesn't have anything to do with the reality of you and I," Carr said.

Among Wednesday's new cases, there are nine in the Winnipeg health region, eight in the Prairie Mountain Health region, seven in the Southern Health region and one in the Interlake-Eastern health region, the province said. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

There are eight people with COVID-19 in hospital in Manitoba, including one in intensive care, the release says. Two of the people in hospital are residents from Bethesda Place.

Public health officials also announced three more possible COVID-19 exposures: two in Brandon, Man., and one in Wasagaming, Man. The risk of transmission is low, but people are being given the information to assess their own risk, the release says.

One of them was at the GoodLife Fitness gym at 1570 18th St. in Brandon on Aug. 18 and 19 from 8 to 10 p.m. on both days.

Another was at the Coffee Culture Café and Eatery at 510 First St. in Brandon on Aug. 18 from 2 to 8 p.m.

The third location is the Foxtail Café at Highway 10 and Victor Avenue in Wasagaming on Aug. 11, 14 and 17. Times will be put on the province's website when they are available.

Earlier Wednesday morning, Premier Brian Pallister said he's not fazed by the province leading the country in per capita active COVID-19 cases.

"I didn't, as you will all remember, run any victory laps when we were last on COVID numbers, and I'm not going to lose my confidence in our health officials at this point, either," he said at a news conference.

"What gives me confidence is knowing that we have capable people and smart people in this province that are going to get us back on track."

Manitoba now leads the country in active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

Pallister reminded Manitobans to go back to the fundamentals of physical distancing and good hand hygiene, and called on people to stop spreading misinformation that contradicts advice given by public health officials.

He said he's heard of several instances of people in Manitoba throwing a "temper tantrum" when they're asked to wear a face mask in public places that require it, and he reiterated the benefits of wearing masks in spaces where distancing isn't possible.

"We're not inventing the science. The science is evolving and the research that is happening is advancing our understanding of COVID," he said.

"I just encourage people who aren't health experts not [to] position themselves as such. I think that's dangerous."

To date, 622 people with COVID-19 in Manitoba have recovered from the illness, and 13 have died.

The latest fatality linked to COVID-19 in the province was the resident at Bethesda Place, a woman in her 90s whose death was announced on Tuesday.

Another four of the province's COVID-19 fatalities happened in the last two weeks. Before that, a death linked to the illness had not been recorded in Manitoba since July 22.

On Tuesday, 1,206 COVID-19 tests were done in Manitoba, bringing the total number done since early February to 129,409.

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin has previously said a test positivity rate higher than three per cent would be cause for concern, but on Monday, Roussin downplayed the significance of the record high rate, saying most new cases are linked to known clusters. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)


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