'No zero-risk situation,' Manitoba official warns ahead of loosened visitor restrictions starting Saturday
With 2 designated visitors soon allowed everywhere but the north, Dr. Jazz Atwal urges people to stay vigilant
One of Manitoba's top public health officials is asking people not to let their guards down when most of the province is allowed to have two designated household visitors starting Saturday.
"There's no zero-risk situation," Dr. Jazz Atwal said at a news conference where he announced 173 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths linked to the illness.
"We don't want our case counts to go up. We want to try to be able to open up more of society, but that's all going to be based upon what Manitobans do and how they interact and how they behave."
The acting deputy chief public health officer's latest update comes hours before Manitoba eases some of its strictest pandemic restrictions yet, which will also allow stores to sell non-essential items again starting a minute after midnight on Saturday.
While the new rules mean people could see grandparents, neighbours or friends they haven't visited in more than two months, Atwal said it's important to avoid feeling a false sense of security during the ongoing global pandemic.
The rules that take effect Saturday will stay in place for three weeks before being evaluated again.
Those rules will apply everywhere but northern Manitoba, which will remain under the current heavy restrictions because of a spike in cases in recent days and significant COVID-19 outbreaks in several communities.
More than one-third of Friday's new cases — 64 — are in the Northern Health Region, which has seen 818 new infections since Jan. 11.
The massive region is Manitoba's most sparsely populated, with a 2019 population just shy of 77,000.
As of Friday, that part of the province has a COVID-19 infection rate of 4,225.50 cases per 100,000 people, Manitoba's online dashboard says — about four cases for every 100 people.
That's by far Manitoba's highest infection rate in any of its five health regions, and nearly double the province's second-highest of 2,201.64 in the Southern Health region — or about two in every 100 people.
Winnipeg test positivity rate down
Manitoba's five-day test positivity rate is up slightly to 9.3 per cent, the province says in a news release, while Winnipeg's is down to 6.2 per cent — the lowest it's been since October.
The deaths announced Friday are two people in their 80s, the release says: a woman linked to Niverville's Heritage Life Personal Care Home and a man connected to Winnipeg's Southeast Personal Care Home.
There are also 56 new cases in the Winnipeg health region, the release says, while the remaining new infections are split between the Interlake-Eastern health region (33), the Prairie Mountain Health region (11) and the Southern Health region (nine).
Those deaths bring Manitoba's total to 795.
WATCH | Dr. Jazz Atwal on the need to stay cautious as restrictions ease:
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Manitoba are now up slightly to 274, from 268 on Thursday. Thirty-nine of those people are in intensive care, the release says, five more than on Thursday.
An outbreak has been declared at the Pembina Manitou Health Centre and Personal Care Home, the release says.
Previously announced outbreaks are now over at Morden's Tabor Home, Selkirk's Tudor House Personal Care Home and Winnipeg's Deer Lodge Centre Lodge 4 East, West Park Manor Personal Care Home, St. Amant Health and Transition Services and Carpathia Children's Centre.
Two cases were removed from Manitoba's total on Friday because of a data correction, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 28,260, the province's news release says.
To date, 24,204 people in Manitoba have recovered from COVID-19, while 3,261 cases are still considered active, though health officials have said that number is inflated by a data entry backlog.
There were 2,070 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Thursday, bringing Manitoba's total number of swabs completed to 461,250 since February.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Jan. 22, 2021: