Manitoba ‘headed in the right direction’ but cases must drop further before restrictions lift: health official

With just over a week before Manitoba’s strictest COVID-19 public health orders yet are set to expire, the province announced six more people had died from the illness and 187 more had been infected.

Both numbers represented a relative drop from even a week ago, when Manitoba regularly reported daily case counts above 200 and fatalities in the double digits.

“Our case numbers are dropping, which is a good thing. And we’re seeing that continual drop,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, in a conference call with media on Thursday afternoon.

Test positivity rates in Winnipeg and Manitoba at large also saw drops on Thursday, as the province reported a five-day average of 11.2 per cent (down from 12.6 on Wednesday) and its capital city posted a rate of 10.4 per cent (down from 11.9 the previous day).

But Atwal said Manitoba needs to see fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations, lower case numbers and lower test positivity rates before restrictions in the province are lifted.

“It’s not just one specific indicator,” he said. “We’re definitely in a better spot today than we were several weeks ago. Obviously, we’re not at the same spot as we were back in the spring time, but I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

The five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate — a rolling average of the tests that come back positive for the illness — dropped in Manitoba and in Winnipeg on Thursday, the province says. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Manitoba’s current restrictions, which include a ban on social gatherings with people outside your household and the closure of non-essential businesses such as gyms, theatres and restaurants for dine-in service, are set to end on Jan. 8.

“We would have to look at the evidence and the epidemiology closer to the time the orders expire,” Atwal said about the possibility of loosening restrictions.

Meanwhile, the province’s intensive care units are still operating at 154 per cent of their pre-pandemic capacity, Shared Health Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said on the conference call.

As of Thursday morning, there were 337 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in hospital in Manitoba, including 247 who are still considered infectious, the province said in a news release. There are 37 COVID-19 patients in intensive care — one more than on Wednesday — with 33 of those cases considered infectious.

The deaths announced Thursday include a woman in her 70s from the Prairie Mountain Health region, a Winnipeg woman in her 70s and a Southern Health man in his 80s, the release said.

More than half of Manitoba’s COVID-19 deaths in 2020 happened in December, according to provincial data. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

The other deaths are three Winnipeg women connected to care homes: one in her 80s linked to the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, another in her 80s linked to Charleswood Care Centre and one in her 90s linked to the Poseidon Care Centre.

Outbreaks of the illness have been declared at Selkirk’s Tudor House Personal Care Home and Winnipeg’s Southeast Personal Care Home. Outbreaks at Stonewall’s Rosewood Lodge Personal Care Home and Winnipeg’s Misericordia Place and Kildonan Personal Care Centre are now over.

There have been 24,700 cases of COVID-19 identified in Manitoba and 667 people have died from the illness. More than half of those fatalities — 356 — happened this month, the provincial data site says.

Just under half of Thursday’s new cases (91) are in the Winnipeg health region, the release says. The rest are split among the Northern Health Region (38), the Southern Health region (33), the Interlake-Eastern health region (18) and the Prairie Mountain Health region (seven).

To date, 19,528 of those people have been listed as recovered, while 4,505 are still considered active (though officials have previously said that number is inflated because of a data entry backlog).

The New Year’s Eve media availability was the second of two in an 11-day holiday period that began Christmas Eve and continues through this weekend.

Sites where there were possible public COVID-19 exposures are listed by region on the province’s website.

There were 2,083 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Wednesday, bringing the total number completed since early February to 421,630, the release says.

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