People in and around Winnipeg will have to wear masks in indoor public places and limit gatherings to 10 starting Monday, as the region returns to restrictions it hasn’t seen since the early months of the pandemic.
The new rules announced Friday come as the Winnipeg metropolitan region — a geographically small region that comprises most of Manitoba’s population — is moved to the orange, or “restricted,” level under the province’s colour-coded pandemic response system.
The shift comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in the capital city, an increasing number of which involve people in their 20s who were bar-hopping when they got infected.
People from communities just outside Winnipeg, about half of whom commute to the city for work, will also be bound by the new rules, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a surprise news conference Friday afternoon.
That includes people living in the communities of Selkirk, Niverville, Stonewall, Dunnottar and several rural municipalities:
- St. Andrews.
- St. Clements.
- St. François Xavier.
- West St. Paul.
- East St. Paul.
The new rules will be in place for at least four weeks, or two incubation periods of the illness, Roussin said. That window includes Thanksgiving, which falls on Oct. 12 this year.
WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin explains new rules coming to part of Manitoba:
The southwestern Manitoba Prairie Mountain Health region faced similar restrictions when that part of the province was moved to the orange level at the end of August, as cases there fuelled by large gatherings skyrocketed.
Those rules were in place for about a month until the region’s curve of COVID-19 cases flattened.
Manitoba’s COVID-19 test positivity rate — a rolling, five-day average of the tests that come back positive — is now up to 2.6 per cent. In Winnipeg, that number is roughly 3.1 per cent, Roussin said Friday.
That’s still lower than the rate in the Prairie Mountain Health region when that area was moved to the orange level, he said, but community spread of the illness is a bigger problem in Winnipeg than it was in Prairie Mountain.
Roussin said he had a good handle on how the virus was being spread in that region, but transmission patterns in Winnipeg are less clear, which led to the new restrictions announced on Friday.
Manitoba never saw the high case counts of some other provinces in the early months of the pandemic, even going 13 straight days without a new case at the start of July.
But that changed later in the summer, and the province’s number of active cases ballooned briefly to the highest per capita in the country.
Possible changes for restaurants, bars
Provincial rules for schools, child care, retail stores, museums, theatres, churches, gyms and casinos in the Winnipeg area will remain unchanged for now, Roussin said, though the restrictions on gatherings will apply to weddings and funerals. Masks will only be mandatory at work for people who interact with the public.
People will now have to wear masks at restaurants in the Winnipeg area but will be allowed to take them off once they sit down to eat, he said.
Officials also plan to talk to people in the restaurant industry — plus those working at bars, beverage rooms, brew pubs, microbreweries and distilleries — about what steps they can take to lower the risk of spreading the illness. More measures may be brought in after those consultations, Roussin said.
There were 54 new cases of COVID-19 announced in Manitoba on Friday, Roussin said, including 44 in the Winnipeg health region.
Another four of the new cases were in the Southern Health region while the Prairie Mountain, Interlake-Eastern and Northern health regions each had two new cases.
There are now 487 active cases in Manitoba, including 401 in Winnipeg, according to provincial data.
One case previously announced in Winnipeg was removed from the province’s case totals on Friday, pending further investigation by public health officials.
More cases linked to Winnipeg schools, local bars
Twenty-eight cases of COVID-19 are now the outbreak at John Pritchard School in Winnipeg, Roussin said, including five who are not directly linked to the school.
The province also reported Friday that a case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in someone that was at St. John’s-Ravenscourt School.
The person was on campus outside of normal school hours in one location on Monday, Sept. 14 and on Wednesday, Sept 16, according to a letter addressed to parents that was posted on the province’s website.
They did not have any direct contact with students on either visit, and the risk of exposure was deemed “extremely low,” the province said.
In addition, the province announced three potential exposures at Winnipeg bars and restaurants Friday afternoon.
Health officials say there were potential exposures at the Local Public Eatery on Sept. 17 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., Bar Italia on Sept. 16 between 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Joey’s Polo Park on Sept. 16 between 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Outbreaks at two Winnipeg personal care homes were ended on Friday. Fred Douglas Lodge and Concordia Place have returned to caution yellow under the pandemic response system.
There are now 13 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Manitoba, including six people in intensive care. Nineteen people who had the illness have died and 1,258 have recovered.
To date, there have been 1,764 COVID-19 cases detected in the province.
The surge in COVID-19 cases in Winnipeg has led to a spike in demand for testing in the city, causing long lineups and hours-long waits at test sites.
Roussin said Thursday that the province is looking into possible new ways of testing to alleviate some of this pressure but cautioned that it’s too early to say whether Manitoba will follow Ontario’s lead by offering the test in pharmacies.
On Thursday, 2,354 more COVID-19 tests were done in Winnipeg, the province said. Meanwhile, the number done on Wednesday was updated to 1,607 on Friday.
Those tests brought the total done in Manitoba since early February to 173,999.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Sept. 25, 2020: