New northern restrictions announced for schools and public, 10 new northern cases announced

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the Northern Health Region (NHR) has hit double digits again. New restrictions will be coming, starting next week, for northern communities and schools.

Out of 147 new COVID-19 cases reported in Manitoba Oct. 22, 10 of the new cases were reported in northern communities. Another case has been found in the Flin Flon/Snow Lake/Cranberry Portage/Sherridon health district. The Town of Snow Lake confirmed Wednesday that the second case is in Snow Lake, a close contact to the previous case and another Hudbay employee. Hudbay confirmed Wednesday that a positive case had been found in a Snow Lake-based employee, then confirmed Thursday that the second case was in a second employee.

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"Public health has confirmed that there is a second positive case of COVID-19 in the Snow Lake area and it is linked to the first case. The second confirmed case is a Hudbay employee who was not symptomatic while at work and both individuals are currently self-isolating," reads an Oct. 22 statement from Hudbay and the Town of Snow Lake.

Two new cases each have been reported in the The Pas/OCN/Kelsey health district, with another two cases found in the Thompson/Mystery Lake district and another two cases marked as "unknown district." Thompson has now reported 25 cases of COVID-19 - 12 of those cases are still active, while the remaining 13 are now considered recovered. There are currently 45 active cases of COVID-19 in northern Manitoba.

Another possible exposure at a northern school has been announced, this time at Deerwood School in Thompson. There have been four possible exposure events to COVID-19 at northern schools - two in Thompson at Deerwood School and R.D. Parker Collegiate and two in The Pas at Scott Bateman Middle School and at Opasquia Elementary School.

With a rise in northern cases, new rules and restrictions will be coming for northern Manitoba. The restrictions, announced by the provincial government, will be similar to those announced for the Winnipeg region and will be in effect for a minimum of two weeks, starting Oct. 26.

Gathering sizes will be reduced to a maximum of five people, including weddings, funerals and banquets/receptions, dinners and house parties, where only five people will be able to come to another household. Exceptions to the five-person rule include places were the number of attendees doesn't exceed 30 per cent capacity, if the gathering is in a location that is physically divided into spaces that hold no more than five people or if people are prevented from being in close proximity to each other when entering, leaving or meeting inside.

Masks will need to be worn in all indoor public places. People are advised to stay home when sick, practice social distancing, wash and/or sanitize hands frequently and follow public health guidelines.

Casinos, bingo halls, and some licensed facilities will be closed unless those facilities can provide service for food pickup and delivery. Other businesses, including retail businesses and restaurants, will be limited to 50 per cent capacity at maximum and personal service businesses will be limited to either 50 per cent or one person for every 10 square metres inside the business - whichever is less.

All restaurants, museums, theatres, libraries, concert venues, gyms or similar businesses and areas will need to keep contact information for all attendees and keep them for at least three weeks to allow for easier and more thorough contact tracing.

The region is the third region in Manitoba to have such restrictions imposed, following similar situations in Prairie Mountain Health and in Winnipeg earlier in the pandemic.

Due in part to the rise in exposures, new rules for school operations have been announced by the provincial government. The rules will be in effect, starting Oct. 26, for schools in the north and in Winnipeg. The school will now fall under a modified "orange" level under the provincial pandemic response system.

With the new rules, schools must have two metres of social distancing as often as practically possible and adjust classrooms accordingly, remove excess furniture to add more space and some spaces like common areas or libraries will need to be changed to allow for distancing. Extracurricular activites will only be allowed by the province if schools follow all learning and distancing rules, with any field trips cancelled or postponed. Teachers and staff who work with multiple student cohorts will need to wear medical masks - the province has said it will supply medical masks to schools and teachers.

Indoor choir programs and music programs involving wind instruments will not be allowed, as per the new provincial rules. Remote learning options may be created for Kindergarten to Grade 8 students while the orange level is in effect.

The Flin Flon School Division plans to provide further comment on local plans later Oct. 22.

Four more people have died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours - a man in his 70s and three men in their 80s. One man in his 80s was from the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority, while the rest were from Winnipeg. The man in his 70s and another man in his 80s were both connected to an ongoing outbreak at the Parkview Place seniors' residence in Winnipeg.

The province has now reported 47 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began - 26 of those deaths have come during this month alone. Manitoba is continuing to average at least one COVID-19 related death per day in October. The provincial five-day test positivity rate has climbed to 5.6 per cent, an all-time high for Manitoba during the pandemic, while the test positivity rate in northern Manitoba is lower at 4.6 per cent. Two new outbreaks were announced - one at the Arborgate School in La Broquerie and another at the Ochekwi Sipi Personal Care Home on Fisher River Cree Nation. 

Province-wide, 1,806 people currently have COVID-19. Of those 1,806 people, 42 are in hospital, with eight of those people in intensive care.

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