The maximum number of people allowed to gather in one place in Manitoba will increase Friday thanks to lowering numbers of active COVID-19 cases, public health officials announced Wednesday.
Up to 25 people can gather in a room together starting Friday, while 50 people can gather outside, provided physical distancing measures are in place, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.
“As we transition into larger group sizes, as we transition into Phase 2, it’s still a reminder that it’s not a return to normal,” Roussin said.
“We’re still dealing with this virus and we’re still going to be dealing with this virus for some time, so we still need to take those precautions.”
Physical distancing, hand-washing and staying home when you’re showing any signs of sickness are all examples of measures people should take, he said.
“The times of heading out when we have respiratory symptoms or fighting through a cold are gone,” he said. “This is the new normal.”
No new cases of COVID-19 were reported Wednesday, and three more people have recovered from the illness, he said, bringing the total number of recoveries to 260.
The number of people with active cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba is now down to 23. One person is in hospital, but no one is in intensive care.
There have been seven deaths related to COVID-19 in Manitoba.
There were 245 COVID-19 tests done on Tuesday, bringing the total number of tests up to 35,820.
Outdoor care home visits
In addition to bigger gatherings, work is underway to allow outdoor visits at personal care homes, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health.
Visitors have been barred from entering personal care homes in Manitoba for months to prevent possible outbreaks in those facilities. People 65 or older and those with previously diagnosed health conditions are considered vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19.
“We are very aware that the ability to connect with loved ones is important to the health and well-being of our residents,” Siragusa said.
“Our goal has been to find a balance for the longer term and a balance that will enable visits with loved ones to occur, with all the necessary precautions in place.”
Residents can have a maximum of two visitors at a time, and the visits will take place outdoors, except for compassionate or end-of-life reasons.
Personal care home operators are to inform families directly about where and when they can visit their relatives, as well as have visitation procedures in place, by May 29 at the latest.
Guidelines have been provided to care home operators, Siragusa said.
Visitors will be screened for symptoms, travel history and possible exposure when they arrive at a care facility. Visitors will have to wash their hands and maintain physical distancing.
If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at a care home, the facility will have to implement its outbreak protocols, Siragusa said, which includes possibly suspending visitation temporarily.
“We know there likely will be some changes required along the way, but we do believe this is a safe way to slowly and cautiously allow in-person visits to resume, while continuing to protect residents and staff in the personal care homes,” she said.
Masks not a substitute for other measures: Roussin
Earlier on Wednesday, federal Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam suggested that people wear medical masks as an “added layer of protection,” when physical distancing is not possible.
However, Roussin said that doesn’t change the message Manitoba public health officials have given since the start of the pandemic.
“The most important things are the ones we always go over: lots of hand-washing, physical distancing, stay home when you’re ill,” he said.
“In addition to those things, wearing a non-medical mask is likely to protect the people around you. It’s unlikely to protect the person wearing it.
“So it’s an additional measure, but it should not be seen as a substitute for any of those precautions.”
2nd wave could come during flu season
One of the fears around reopening the economy is the potential for a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. But in Manitoba’s case, a significant part of the concern is when that wave may hit, said Roussin.
Right now, the province is preparing for the possibility that a second wave of the novel coronavirus could coincide with flu season, he said.
“Influenza alone often puts a strain on our health-care system … which means we’re going to need to have a very robust influenza vaccination campaign this year,” said Roussin.
“We’ve seen year-over-year uptick in influenza [vaccination] and we’re anticipating a much higher uptick this year. So we’ll, again, need to get those vaccination numbers up.”