Manitoba's COVID-19 restrictions to loosen; nursing homes, schools to reopen

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is planning to reopen nursing homes to visitors and school classrooms to students as the province's COVID-19 numbers remain low.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen has announced a relaxation of the current requirement that people visiting their loved ones in personal care homes do so only outside.

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Starting Tuesday, visitors will be able to go inside the facilities, subject to certain conditions.

"There is some risk (in doing this). We believe it is a calculated risk but we believe it is a balanced risk," Friesen said Monday.

"One that weighs the need to keep personal care home residents safe but also takes into consideration what it is that Manitobans have been saying to us, and that is that they want to have access to their loved ones."

Visitors will be screened on arrival for symptoms, and care homes will designate a limited number of relatives or caregivers for each patient, Friesen added. In some cases, the visits may be held in a special room instead of a resident's bedroom.

The province is also looking for companies to build heated all-season shelters so that outdoor visits, which are less restrictive, can continue into the winter. The shelters will be adjacent to care homes and heated, Friesen said.

Manitoba has seen 314 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began and 293 people have recovered. Many cases have been people who have travelled or their close contacts, and the province has not seen the kind of outbreaks in personal care homes that have occurred in Quebec and Ontario.

The lone new case announced Monday was that of a truck driver who had travelled to Ontario, got tested there and remained there in self-isolation. Three of the six cases announced in recent days have been truckers.

Two other cases, initially reported Friday, were a couple who had travelled to the United States and Alberta, health officials said Monday.

One person visited a diner and store in Blumenort, southeast of Winnipeg, after their return and while experiencing symptoms, said Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer.

Roussin said that person could be fined for failing to self-isolate for 14 days, but hinted it was unlikely.

"Certainly there could be penalties imposed (but) I think for the most part, our approach has been education," Roussin said.

"In these cases, we much prefer to try to work with the individual, get co-operative contact investigation, we need further self-isolation ... so we find in public health, we're much better able to protect the health of Manitobans through co-operation with people rather than levying fines."

With the case numbers remaining low, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced on social media that students will head back to class on Sept. 8 — the normal start time for the school year.

Classroom learning was shut down on March 23, although remote learning and some small-group in-class tutoring continued.

"Schools will reopen for teachers and staff on September 2, to provide time to prepare spaces, inform staff about health protocols, and engage collaboratively on recovery learning approaches," read the message posted on Goertzen's Twitter account.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2020

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