People in and around Winnipeg will have to wear masks in indoor public places and restrict gatherings to 10 people starting Monday, as the region moves to restricted orange under the pandemic response system.
Surrounding communities also subject to the new rules are the city of Selkirk, the towns of Niverville and Stonewall, the village of Dunnottar, and the rural municipalities of Cartier, Headingley, Macdonald, Ritchot, Rockwood, Rosser, Springfield, St. Andrews, St. Clements, St. François Xavier, Taché, West St. Paul and East St. Paul.
More than half the people in those communities come into Winnipeg for work every day, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said, which is why they’re included in the list of places that need to follow the new rules. People who don’t live in Winnipeg will still be allowed to visit the city, but will need to follow the rules while they’re there, he said.
The new rules will stay for at least four weeks, or two incubation periods of the illness, Roussin said at a surprise news conference Friday afternoon, and more restrictions may be brought in at any time.
Rules for schools, child care, retail stores, museums, theatres and casinos in those regions will stay the same for now, Roussin said. He specified that the restrictions on gathering sizes will apply to weddings and funerals.
Masks will be mandatory for people who work with the public, but otherwise the new rules will not apply to workplaces, Roussin said.
People going to restaurants in the affected communities will also have to wear masks, though they will be allowed to remove them once they sit down to eat, he said.
Officials also plan to talk to people in the restaurant industry — plus 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 are 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba on Friday, Roussin said, including 44 in the Winnipeg health region.
There are four new cases in the Southern Health region and two each in the Prairie Mountain, Interlake-Eastern and Northern health regions.
More positive tests
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.
That’s lower than it was in the Prairie Mountain Health region when that area was moved to restricted orange, Roussin said, but community spread of the illness is more of a 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. That’s what led to the new rules brought in on Friday.
There are now 487 active cases in Manitoba, including 401 — more than 82 per cent — in Winnipeg, according to provincial data.
One case previously announced in Winnipeg was removed, pending further investigation by public health officials.
Twenty-eight cases of the illness have now been linked to the outbreak at John Pritchard School in Winnipeg, Roussin said. Five of those are people who are not directly linked to the school.
Outbreaks at two Winnipeg personal care homes were ended on Friday, Roussin said. 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, including six people in intensive care; 19 people have died and 1,258 have recovered.
To date, there have been 1,764 COVID-19 cases detected in Manitoba.
Roussin said on Thursday that roughly half of Winnipeg’s recent cases of the illness were in young people who were out at bars, pubs and restaurants during the time they contracted it.
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 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 actually done on Wednesday was updated to 1,607 on Friday.
Those tests brought the total done in Manitoba since early February to 173,999.