Manitoba starts to see community transmission of COVID-19

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's COVID-19 numbers continue to climb and health officials said they are starting to see early signs of community transmission in Winnipeg.

"We've seen a number of cases — four or five cases — that we can't link to travel or to a known transmission chain," Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, said Wednesday.

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With the novel coronavirus now spreading within the community, the number of cases is likely to start rising more rapidly, Roussin said. He urged people to stay home as much as possible and to practise social distancing when they venture outside.

"Certainly, if we don't put in measures to interrupt that (community) transmission, that's when you start seeing the climb towards the peak occur."

The province reported 24 new probable or confirmed cases for a total of 127. Four people were in hospital, three of them in intensive care.

Among the affected are three health-care workers — at two hospitals in Winnipeg and one in Selkirk. Roussin said the Selkirk worker was infected during travel and the Winnipeg cases are still under investigation.

The province is going to screen all health-care workers when they report to work at acute-care and long-term care facilities by taking their temperatures and asking them questions about symptoms and travel.

The Manitoba Nurses Union called the measure inadequate. It wants health-care workers to have the right to more protective equipment — such as N95 respirator masks — instead of surgical masks. The union said front-line workers who treat suspected COVID-19 cases are at risk of infection.

"We need the province to follow Alberta, B.C. and Ontario by allowing nurses to use their clinical judgment to determine (protective equipment) access," union president Darlene Jackson said in a statement.

Several nurses were in 14-day self-isolation because of the COVID-19 hospital cases, either because they tested positive or were in contact with other health-care workers who had.

"It is clear ... that these exposures have had a significant impact on our staff, of course, as well as the operations in providing service delivery," said the province's chief nursing officer, Lanette Siragusa.

The government is moving to bolster nursing ranks by easing requirements for former registered nurses who want to come back after retiring or moving out of province. Registration fees nurses would normally pay to the College of Registered Nurses will be waived.

Premier Brian Pallister urged people to heed advice to stay home as much as possible and not congregate in groups. He hinted at a crackdown if people ignore warnings.

"I won't take off the table the possibility of further actions if people are blatantly abusing the rights and freedoms they have come to take for granted in some cases," Pallister said.

"We respect those rights, but we also respect the right of people to be protected at times like these."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2020

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