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Manitoba mandates more mask use, COVID-19 numbers continue to grow


August 25, 2020
By Steve Lambert/The Canadian Press

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When it comes to the eventual return to the office, employers should be concerned about more than simply physical masks, writes Mina Movasseli. (narstudio/Adobe Stock)

The Manitoba government is requiring more people to use masks as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.

Starting Sept. 1, all visitors to health-care facilities will be required to wear non-medical masks upon entering.

“As we move towards the fall, additional proactive and preventative measures are needed to ensure the risk of exposure to this virus is minimized for patients and our dedicated front-line clinical staff who care for them,” Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in a release Monday.

The order came on the same day that new rules, announced last week, took effect in the Prairie Mountain health region, which covers much of western Manitoba including Brandon, the province’s second-largest city.

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Public gatherings in the region are being capped at 10, and people are required to wear masks in indoor public places and at gatherings.

The province reported 49 new COVID-19 cases across the province Monday, after a record-setting 72 the previous day. To date, there have been 993 cases in Manitoba.

Many of the cases in recent days have been linked to a few Hutterite colonies in different regions as well as ongoing clusters in Brandon.

Proactive testing, tracing

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said proactive tracing and testing has been underway on the colonies, so more positive test results are expected.

“As we’re reaching out, working with the communities — communities are co-operative and have a lot of interest in this — then we’re going to see cases that are related to that,” Roussin said.

Outbreak at Maple Leaf Foods

In Brandon, dozens of cases in recent weeks have involved workers at a Maple Leaf Foods processing plant. A group that represents migrant workers reiterated calls Monday for the plant to be temporarily closed.

“We feel the employer and the government are discriminatory towards migrant and immigrant workers, and that our health concerns are being ignored,” read the open letter from Migrante Manitoba.

Maple Leaf Foods said it was open to constructive suggestions, and has already enacted safety measures.

“People safety will remain our top priority and we will continue to conduct daily health and temperature screenings, require masks and other personal protection equipment, use social distancing in the plant and use plexiglass separators between work stations,” company spokesperson Janet Riley said in an email.

Roussin has repeatedly said there is no evidence the novel coronavirus is spreading at the plant. He repeated Monday that Maple Leaf has taken all the needed precautions, and agencies such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have been keeping an eye.

“The protocols in place are above and beyond what we would normally see,” Roussin said.

The workers at the plant who have tested positive are part of a larger cluster in Brandon, Roussin said. And there are other clusters in the city.

“We’ve seen a number of different clusters develop, which (are) not necessarily connected to that original cluster. And then on top of that, we see some community transmission,” Roussin said.

Schools reopening

The province has no plans to delay the Sept. 8 start of school in the Prairie Mountain region, Roussin said, although no measure is completely off the table if numbers change.

The Progressive Conservative government offered up more money Monday to help schools across Manitoba prepare for a return to classroom learning. School divisions will be offered $52 million for masks, enhanced cleaning, extra busing and more staff.

The money is in addition to $48 million that school divisions saved during the spring when schools were closed, and which can now be used, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.

Under rules announced earlier this month, masks will be mandatory for students and staff in Grades 4 to 12 where physical distancing cannot be maintained.