Manitoba announced 36 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of known active cases in the province to 621.
The majority are in Winnipeg, which has 28 new cases, said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, at a news briefing.
There are also four new cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region, two in the Interlake-Eastern health region and two in the Southern Health region.
The new cases come as Manitoba officially launches COVID Alert, Canada’s exposure notification app. Manitoba is the fifth province to sign on to the free, voluntary app, which uses Bluetooth to alert users if they’ve been exposed to another user with COVID-19.
“It’s all systems go,” Health Minister Cameron Friesen said at the Thursday briefing.
A second case of COVID-19 was identified at Carberry Collegiate in Carberry, Man., the province said. The individual was at the school on Sept. 21.
No close contacts to the individual have been identified and the infection is not believed to have been acquired at school.
There’s also a second possible exposure in Carberry, at the Subway at 200 First Ave., on Sept. 26 from roughly 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
More testing sites coming
Friesen and Roussin were pressed on Thursday about reports of hours-long wait times at testing sites and rising concerns the waits could pose barriers to access.
Earlier in the pandemic, the province quickly opened multiple testing sites across Manitoba. Some have since closed, while others have opened.
Roussin said the province is working to introduce more sites, but opening them requires finding staff and locations and ensuring they can be run safely.
The province has improved overall testing volume since the pandemic began, he said.
“[Earlier in the pandemic] we were talking about 300, 400 tests a day, right? That was a big improvement for us back then,” he said.
“We’re doing over 2,000 tests on some days now, so we have improved that over time — definitely want to be able to do better.”
It’s harder to staff testing sites now than it was earlier in the pandemic, when health-care procedures were scaled back to make room in the health-care system for COVID-19, Friesen said.
“At that time, remember that we were also closing down our normal hospital functions, so we were able to redeploy massive workforce to new things.”
That’s not the case now, as the province works to catch up on a backlog of elective surgeries that were postponed earlier in the pandemic, Friesen said.
A new mobile testing centre in Winnipeg served 75 people on Wednesday, its first day, Friesen said.
More mobile testing will come to Winnipeg in the coming weeks, he said, as well as Dauphin, Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Winkler.
“We’re moving very rapidly to add screening sites, because they’re needed,” he said.
Expanding hours at existing testing sites is also on the table, he said, as is staggering hours at the sites.
The current average turnaround time for a COVID-19 test is 56 hours from the moment the swab is taken until the result is processed, Roussin said. The processing time at the lab is still between 24 and 48 hours.
Masks required in health facilities
Starting Wednesday, non-medical masks will be required in all Manitoba Access centres, community service providers and doctors’ offices affiliated with health regions.
“These requirements will remain in place indefinitely, regardless of whether a region is at orange or yellow on the pandemic response system,” Roussin said.
The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 2.1 per cent as of Thursday morning, Roussin said. There were 1,803 tests completed Wednesday, bringing the province’s total to 186,668 since early February.
There are 15 people in Manitoba hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday, Roussin said, including seven in intensive care.
Since the pandemic started, Manitoba has identified 2,029 cases of COVID-19 and 1,388 people have recovered.