Manitoba

Manitoba watches COVID-19 numbers as it cautiously reopens economy

As Manitoba moves to reopen much of its economy, some businesses are eager to get started, while others are treading more cautiously — but everyone is aware that a spike in new COVID-19 cases or deaths could mean tighter restrictions again.

'The last thing we want is another outbreak'

Jim Andromidas is looking forward to seeing the breakfast crowd again at his family-run restaurant that's been in existence since 1977. (Ian Froese/CBC)

As Manitoba moves to reopen much of its economy, some businesses are eager to get started, while others are treading more cautiously — but everyone is aware that a spike in new COVID-19 cases or deaths could mean tighter restrictions again.

"I think we have to open up the economy and I think as long as there are precautions and there are rules that are followed and people are being safe and being smart, hopefully we can, you know, fingers crossed, that we can keep those numbers down," said Michelle Lalonde, president of Tiber River Naturals.

During the shutdown, all of their product was moved from the Academy Road location to the Kenaston storefront.

The retail side was considered an essential service, and stayed open for curbside pickup, although no esthetic services were available.

Michelle Lalonde says the retail side of Tiber River Naturals remained open during the COVID-19 shutdown, but the esthetic services will be available again as of Monday. (Karen Pauls/CBC News)

Since Wednesday's announcement of the Stage Two re-opening, staff have been restocking shelves with everything from hand soap to skincare, and the phone has been ringing constantly with clients trying to book esthetic appointments starting on Monday.

Lalonde walks around the bright, freshly-painted space, checking to ensure the manicure stations and two new portable pedicure chairs adhere to physical distancing regulations.

"We're at half capacity," she said. "We're hoping that we can still be profitable."

That capacity limit is one part of the calculations Manitoba's chief public health officer is making every day.

"We're following daily a number of indicators so certainly the trend in positive test rates, the trend in the community-based transmission numbers, demand on healthcare institutes," Dr. Brent Roussin said in a one-on-one interview with CBC News.

WATCH | One-on-one with Dr. Brent Roussin:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, sits down with CBC's Cameron MacIntosh to talk about the government's Phase 2 reopening. 3:33

"We don't have a single trigger but it's going to be a trend that we see over time. And you know we may have to institute further measures now or in the fall-time if if we did see a surge in the virus."

With only 10 active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba — none of them in hospital — Roussin is recommending life return to a new normal.

"We're going to need to deal with this virus in one form or another for the foreseeable future. So we need to learn how to live with this virus," he said.

'Nice to open up again'

Jim Andromidas jokes he's been cracking eggs at home every morning to prepare for serving dine-in customers again.

Don't get him wrong: he loves flipping burgers for his regulars at Johnny's Marion Restaurant who've resorted to delivery or takeout, but breakfast is what his St. Boniface eatery is known for, he said.

"That's the foundation, built on eggs and bacon — that's what it's all about here."

The restaurant will look different when customers return. Not only are half of the seats removed to follow physical distancing orders, but Andromidas and his two brothers, all owners, got the place remodeled.

"It'll be nice to open up again, get things moving, get things going," he said, adding he's not worried about COVID-19.

Not classes as usual

Schools are among the places re-opening on Monday, although not for regular classes.

Every division is different, but teachers will be back and students will be invited to return in small groups and individually throughout June, for tutoring and assessments.

Staff at Kelvin High School have been busy preparing for teachers and students to begin returning to school for individual/small group tutoring and assessments. Principal Maria Silva (right) and vice-principals Melanie Charbonneau (centre) and Dominic Zagari (left) would like to see each of the 1,300 students return at least once in June. (Walter Bernal/CBC News)

"Safety is number one for all of us," said Maria Silva, the principal of Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, which has 1,300 students.

"We will be abiding by all the guidelines that have been identified by public health. ... We have gone to great lengths to ensure that everyone's safety is protected." 

A tour through the school starts with a health screening and sanitizing booth at the front door.

Students and staff will have to follow directional arrows on the floor to get around, as the hallways are one-way only.

WATCH | Staff at Kelvin High School prepare for students to return:

Staff at Kelvin High School have been busy preparing for teachers and students to begin returning to school for individual/small group tutoring and assessments. 1:56

Classrooms have been measured and desks have been placed two metres apart — some now only have capacity for eight students and one teacher.  

"We would love to have every single student back in June," Silva said, adding distance learning will also continue.

"The intent is for them to come meet with the teacher. Sometimes it could be one hour. It really again depends on the situation. They are not to be here all day. It is not classes as usual. It's very targeted."

Silva expects the return will be especially meaningful for graduating students, many of whom left school in mid-March, not realizing that would be the last high school class they would ever attend.

Safe, not sorry

Gyms are also able to re-open Monday and while many are doing just that, others are proceeding more cautiously.

The doors at Fit Club's two Winnipeg locations will stay closed for an extra week as staff tries to figure out how to manage the flow of clients, how to disinfect equipment and weights between each one, and how to maintain two metres between them while they're working out.

Everyone is eager to get back, but "instead of rushing, we wanted to take the extra time to ensure that we have all our systems and proper measures in place for the safety of both our members and our staff," said Michelle Braithwaite, manager of the Tuxedo location.

They are planning for fewer classes to make time for cleaning in between, and only half the number of clients at a time using an online booking app.

"Our hope, like everyone else's, is to maintain the flattened curve that Manitobans have done so well with, and not see any spike in cases," Braithwaite said.

Fit Club will continue doing live daily online workouts and physically distanced Saturday outdoor gatherings as staff prepares for reopening June 8. Here, Michelle Braithwaite leads an outdoor class Saturday at Assiniboine Park. (Jerome Santome/supplied)

The owner of two 9Round circuit boxing franchises in Winnipeg says he'll also wait a few more days to make sure he gets it right.

"For us, it was getting the dates so quickly that now we have to figure out how our gym is going to run under the government rules," Michael Russell said as he pointed to yellow tape X's marking spots on the floor.

While Manitoba's caseload justifies reopening, Russell hopes everyone will still take all the recommended precautions "because the last thing we want is another outbreak and then shutting us down again."

Michael Russell owns two 9Round boxing gyms in Winnipeg. He's not quite ready to re-open on Monday because he wants to make sure he can adhere to all the physical distancing regulations. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Senior centres are taking the precautions seriously. In fact, Connie Newman with the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres isn't aware of any clubs ready to open their doors. They're busy looking for sanitization equipment and ensuring safety for all.

"We all need to be patient," she said.

With files by Cameron MacIntosh and Ian Froese

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