More time needed to see cases decline, but experts see positive signs from Manitoba’s partial lockdown

For those losing hope that the province’s strict public health orders will be enough to flatten Manitoba’s COVID-19 curve, health experts say give it more time. 

It’s been about a week and a half since the government moved all of Manitoba into code red, or critical, under the provincial pandemic response system, shuttering all non-essential businesses, as well as bars and dine-in restaurants. 

Even more restrictions went into effect last Friday, with gatherings no longer allowed inside homes, and no more sales of non-essential items allowed in-store.

Still, health officials reported a startling 546 new COVID-19 cases Monday — the first daily tally to top 500 — and seven more deaths.

But some experts say not enough time has passed since strict public health orders came into place to see a dent in Manitoba’s escalating COVID-19 numbers, especially given how much the virus had already spread by the time the orders came into place. 

Blue containers and tarps block customers at a Winnipeg Walmart from accessing a section of the supermarket after Manitoba instituted stricter COVID-19 measures last Friday. (Ian Froese/CBC)

By then, it had already spread into myriad communities and age groups, which makes it that much more difficult to contain, said James Blanchard, professor of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba. 

“When that’s the case, when you put in control measures, it just takes longer for those for these case numbers to abate, because it’s not a it’s not a single focus, there can be transmission now in a lot of different kinds of settings,” he said. 

“And so when you bring in place different and more strict kind of control measures, they don’t immediately have an impact on all of the different ways in which the virus might be spreading.”

Blanchard said he thinks the restrictions will have an impact, it’s just a matter of time. 

“I don’t think it’s that much of a surprise that they haven’t come down yet,” he said. 

“It doesn’t mean that the interventions aren’t working or won’t work. It just means that it’s a bit early to expect the numbers to really have come down yet.”

Early indicators

On Monday, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the average number of contacts of people who test positive is beginning to trend down, a positive sign for how effective the partial lockdown has been. 

Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, an associate professor of microbiology at York University, said that’s what she would expect to see at this point, but not a reduction in cases. 

“It is generally expected that you don’t see the impact of lowdown measures during the lockdown measures, especially if they are short like in two weeks, you don’t quite see it,” she said. 

That being said, the effectiveness of the partial lockdown will really hinge on people’s ability to reduce their close contacts, she said. 

In Canada, epidemiological studies have shown that the spread seems to be driven by people socializing or gathering in groups outside of work or school, but that institutions have generally been good at mitigating any spread of the virus, she added. 

“What that means is that institutions are doing their part in terms of following the guidelines and mitigating and maintaining the mitigation measures, such as physical distance, hand hygiene and face masks, but then people are slacking when it comes to their sort of private gatherings and those are much more difficult to to control,” she said. 

“People have to become more responsible in terms of following these guidelines and lessening the burden that this pandemic is having on the businesses and our lives as well.”

There may be some hope on the horizon, however. 

Cynthia Carr, a Winnipeg epidemiologist, says that some COVID-19 case metrics have stopped increasing, which is a good sign. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr says the rolling seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 Manitobans has plateaued at about 29 or 30 per 100,000 in recent days. 

“That is still not showing a significant decline, but it’s not showing an incline anymore,” she said. 

That could be a sign that Manitoba’s case count is about to go down, she said.

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