New pandemic restrictions are coming for Winnipeg and the surrounding area.
On Monday, the region will move to the orange, or “restricted,” level on the province’s pandemic response system.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, announced the change at a surprise news conference Friday.
The new rules will be in place for at least four weeks — two incubation periods for COVID-19.
Here’s what that means for people in the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region.
What are the new rules?
Starting Monday, masks will be mandatory in all indoor public places in Winnipeg and the surrounding areas, including bars and restaurants, except while actually seated at a table to eat or drink.
Public gatherings will be restricted to a maximum 10 people, indoors or outdoors. That includes gatherings like weddings and funerals, Roussin said.
The mandatory mask rule will apply to people who work with the public, but not to those in other workplaces, Roussin said.
“We’ve seen the effectiveness of these type of measures in Prairie Mountain Health,” said Roussin, referring to the southwestern Manitoba region that was rated orange for weeks when cases spiked in August.
“Winnipeggers … certainly have done this before at the early stages of our pandemic,” he said. “Together, we’ll be able to impact the transmission of this virus.”
What about limits at schools and restaurants?
New gathering sizes won’t apply to places already under specific rules through current public health orders, including schools, restaurants, child-care facilities, retail stores, museums, theatres and casinos, the province says.
Those places are already subject to capacity limits and other requirements, which won’t change.
However, Roussin said changes must be made for the restaurant industry, following industry consultation. On Thursday, he said half of recent Winnipeg cases of COVID-19 had been to a bar or restaurant within the time period when they acquired the virus.
“We do see significant transmission … in that sector,” he said. “We do need to engage with them and come up with a way that we can change the way things are happening right now.”
A small number of faith-based organizations that opted for cohorting, instead of following general capacity limits, will have to switch over, he added.
Rules for organized sports won’t change either, he said.
“Those are dealt with in the [public health] order,” he said. “While you’re competing, then there isn’t that distancing requirement [and] they have a 50 per cent capacity for fans.”
Where will the new restrictions apply?
The new restrictions will apply to the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region, which means the city of Winnipeg and 17 surrounding areas.
On Friday, Roussin said regions around Winnipeg are included because residents regularly come into the city, and because public health officials don’t want to see Winnipeggers evade restrictions by heading outside city limits.
“When it’s so easily accessible to take a step outside the perimeter to have a large group size, we thought we’d see the the unintended consequence of just easily shifting large groups to very convenient distances,” he said.
Here’s the full list of regions, beyond Winnipeg, that will be moved to the orange level:
- Rural municipality of Cartier.
- Village of Dunnottar.
- RM of East St. Paul.
- RM of Headingley.
- RM of Macdonald.
- Town of Niverville.
- RM of Ritchot.
- RM of Rockwood.
- RM of Rosser.
- City of Selkirk.
- RM of Springfield.
- RM of St. Andrews.
- RM of St. Clements.
- RM of St. François Xavier.
- Town of Stonewall.
- RM of Taché.
- RM of West St. Paul.
Why is this happening now?
Winnipeg case numbers are rising, and so is the number of cases that public health officials can’t trace back to a known source: so-called “non-epi-link” cases, or cases that are considered examples of community spread.
Winnipeg’s test positivity rate — a five-day rolling average of the number of tests that come back positive — was at 3.1 per cent on Friday, Roussin said. The province says test positivity rates from two to three per cent may signal higher risk.
When Prairie Mountain Health was moved to the orange level in August, it had a test positivity rate around five per cent, Roussin said. In that case, however, officials had a better understanding of where cases were coming from.
A total of 24 of Winnipeg’s cases in the past seven days are believed to be community spread, Roussin said Friday, representing the vast majority of the 29 cases of community spread for the past week province-wide.
“When we were dealing with the Brandon area there, even as we saw that test positivity rate climbing … we knew exactly what was happening,” said Roussin. “We had some specific clusters [of] where it was. We don’t have that benefit here in Winnipeg.”
New restrictions take time to put in place and people need warning to prepare for them, he said, but recent growth and high number of new cases announced Friday — 54 in Manitoba, including 44 in Winnipeg — prompted the call.
“We’ve been watching this growth in Winnipeg for some time,” he said Friday.
“But seeing today’s numbers, [with the] weekend coming up, we thought we want to announce it now and get that implemented as soon as possible.”
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