Manitoba

Steinbach residents mixed over whether regional restrictions targeting unvaccinated will work

Some people in Steinbach are mixed about pandemic restrictions meant to target the unvaccinated amid disproportionately high case loads and hospitalizations emerging from the Southern Health region.

Some welcome new rules, claiming something must be done to sway those on the fence, while others still defiant

Mark Stahl gets a push down a zipline in Steinbach on Friday. The electrician is skeptical about COVID-19 vaccination and says restrictions targeting unvaccinated people like him make him less inclined to get immunized. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Some people in Steinbach are mixed about pandemic restrictions meant to target the unvaccinated amid disproportionately high case loads and hospitalizations emerging from the Southern Health region.

The hope is the restrictions nudge more people like Mark Stahl to get vaccinated. 

The Steinbach electrician says some of the younger guys he works with have rolled up their sleeves out of convenience, since they want to be able to go to bars and restaurants again.

Stahl remains defiant and suspicious.

"They want to give you all kinds of gifts and benefits that are unreal to try to lure you to take something," he said in Steinbach, an hour after the rules were announced on Friday. 

"If it was as good as they say it is, then people would want it. So, no, I don't want it. I have no fear of the virus. I have no fear of COVID."

At an uptake rate of 65.9 per cent, Southern Health has the lowest immunization uptake of Manitoba's five health regions. Rates in the Steinbach health district in particular were 64.5 per cent on Friday, and 50 per cent in nearby Hanover health district. That has influenced the latest public health orders.

Come Tuesday, store capacities in Steinbach and other parts of Southern Health will drop to 50 per cent, due to increasing cases in the region, driven largely by eligible but unvaccinated people.

Hospitalizations are also creeping up: About half of recent COVID-19 admissions to intensive care units have been patients from Southern Health, an area that accounts for 15 per cent of Manitoba's population.

Unlike Stahl, Dave Siemens, who runs a construction company, isn't bothered by regional rules and news of restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Dave Siemens skews more on the cautious side and thinks something must be done, though he isn't confident restrictions will change minds at this point. (CBC)

"I feel sort of sympathetic to both sides," he said.

Fully vaccinated, Siemens understands the restrictions were devised to keep people safe. But he isn't convinced the new rules will work, or that unvaccinated people will follow them.

"I think the harder you push, the more they push back," he said. "We have to listen to both sides. They are convinced for reasons that maybe we don't necessarily agree with, but they are convinced. And so just to ... argue harder and louder is not going to convince anybody."

Church restrictions

Other provincewide restrictions targeting the unvaccinated impact gatherings.

Private indoor get-togethers will be restricted to two households if anyone at the gathering has chosen not to be vaccinated. Outdoor private gatherings are limited to 10 people, but only if one or more guests are unvaccinated.

Under certain circumstances, places of worship won't be required to check for proof of vaccination, though they will have to cap capacity at 25 people or 33 per cent capacity, whichever is higher. On the other hand, churches can continue to hold larger gatherings so long as they ensure everyone in the pews, save for those under 12, are double-dosed.

Mac Dumcum is pastor at Christian Fellowship Church in Steinbach. He recently told members they weren't allowed to talk about the pandemic and vaccine status in church, and needed to focus instead on worship. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Mac Dumcum is pastor at Christian Fellowship Church in Steinbach. He isn't entirely sure yet how to feel about the restrictions, but he does believe additional privileges could sway some on the fence to get vaccinated.

"I think there'll be a lot of people that will dig their heels in right up to their neck," he said. "Then you'll have others that will say, 'You know what? Maybe this isn't as big an issue as I thought. Maybe I should go ahead.' I think it'll be both."

'Doing what they have to'

Married couple Celine and Braden Purtill have a one-year-old. They're both vaccinated, and for the most part people in their orbit in Steinbach are, too.

"Everyone is kind of over with it [the pandemic], or done with it, but cases are rising again so they're doing what they have to do," she said.

Celine supports the rules but remains skeptical they will push the holdouts closer to the needle. She doesn't believe many of those folks will follow the new restrictions either.

Braden agrees.

"You're just going to lose out on being able to do stuff, and that's what people will have to live with now," he said.

Bev Stanley moved to Steinbach a few years ago to be closer to her family, but she's missed out on a number of important 'firsts' with her grandson due to pandemic restrictions. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Bev Stanley echoes some of those sentiments.

The grandmother moved from Winnipeg to Steinbach in 2018 to be closer to her son, his wife and their baby.

She hasn't been able to take in some of those special baby moments up close with her grandson, now three, due to gathering restrictions — and because his parents have followed public health rules to the letter, says Stanley.

She has missed two birthdays, one Halloween and one Christmas with them. That's why Stanley, who got vaccinated without hesitation, supports the latest restrictions.

"I think they're mindful, I think they are careful, I think they are responsible and I think it speaks to everyone who is absolutely exhausted from this pandemic," Stanley said. "Do not give up, be vigilant."

Stanley encourages those who haven't come around to keep an open mind and consider getting immunized, or learn to live with restrictions that target them.

"That is the price that you pay to live in this society."

Will restrictions nudge work to get Steinbach residents vaccinated?

4 months ago
Duration 2:31
Some people in Steinbach, Man. are mixed about pandemic restrictions meant to target the unvaccinated amid disproportionately high case loads and hospitalizations emerging from the Southern Health region. 2:31

With files from Ian Froese and Caitlyn Gowriluk

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