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Lessons from Pauingassi: How a variant scare at a remote First Nation can better prepare Manitoba – CBC.ca

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In the space of one week, Manitoba bounced around an epidemiological version of a roller-coaster ride, thanks to the real and supposed presence of the COVID-19 variant first found in the U.K.

On Feb. 9, public health officials confirmed the province’s first case of the more contagious B117 COVID-19 variant, contracted by a traveller who visited Africa and Europe.

Four days later, First Nations health officials disclosed they found seven potential cases of the same variant in Pauingassi, an Anishinaabe community nestled into the coniferous forest of eastern Manitoba, accessible only by plane, winter road or an arduous ascent of the Berens River by canoe.

The unsettling prospect of a more contagious variant reaching one of the province’s most remote communities didn’t last long. Only three days later, the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg determined the Pauingassi cases in question were nothing out of the ordinary.

Manitobans can be forgiven for feeling as if someone just yanked their chains.

It would be fair to describe the collective mindset as somewhat fragile, given that the province only recently managed to reduce its COVID infection and hospitalization rates — after a miserable and deadly fall — to the point where most businesses are allowed to reopen to some degree.

Nonetheless, nobody at Manitoba public health or the First Nations pandemic response team was engaged in any funny business over the weekend. Red flags were attached to the Pauingassi cases in completely good faith.

“This is a fantastic learning opportunity,” said Dr. Marcia Anderson Manitoba, the head of the First Nations pandemic response team, on Tuesday, explaining this initial B117 scare will prepare remote communities for the real deal. 

“There are some enhanced measures that we will be taking whenever there’s a potential variant of concern. That includes longer isolation periods for contact [and] potential retesting of contacts.”

Two steps to finding a variant

Determining whether a COVID-19 sample is one of three new more contagious variants is more complicated than testing for COVID itself.

For starters, it involves two steps.

The first step is a relatively straightforward screening test for a genetic mutation known as N501Y.

The mutation is found in all three of the more contagious COVID variants of concern to epidemiologists: the B117 strain first found in the U.K., the B1351 strain first discovered in South Africa and the P1 variant first found in Brazil.

The presence of this mutation does not mean a sample is one of these more contagious variants. There are other, more banal variants with same mutation.

That’s why most positive COVID-19 samples that turn out to have the N501Y mutation are sent to Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory for a complicated form testing known as genomic sequencing, which maps out the entire genetic fingerprint of the virus.

It takes more than one technician or scientist to analyze the results of sequencing, which not only determines whether a sample is in fact a variant of concern but also adds another entry into a library of COVID genetics.

“Many different variants are discovered and tracked this way, including those that might be unique to Manitoba,” Manitoba public health said in a statement.

Act now, confirm later

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said his office doesn’t wait until genomic sequencing is complete before it acts on how to handle someone suspected of carrying one of the three problematic variants.

“Whenever we see an indication of variants of concern are so important to us that public health, we’re going to act on it immediately as if it is,” Roussin said on Tuesday. “If we get sequencing that changes that, then we can adjust our measures.”

Those measures include more rigorous contact tracing and potentially more lengthy isolation. The province is in the process of figuring out new tracing-and-isolation standards for COVID-19 variants of concern.

Roussin acknowledges Manitoba public health would not announce a positive result to the initial screening phase, as the First Nations pandemic response team did on Saturday. But he did not criticize the team for doing so, given the abundance of caution that must be exercised when you’re dealing with a remote and vulnerable community.

For now, it seems, Manitoba has been spared the worst of the variant transmission seen in some other provinces. But it’s only a matter of time before more contagious variants supplant the COVID-19 strains circulating in Manitoba right now.

“We should be expecting further variants of concern to develop over time,” Roussin said.

The question is how many Manitobans can get vaccinated before this happens — and how many continue to adhere to pandemic precautions after more contagious variants arrive.

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada – Virden Empire Advance

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):

5:55 p.m.

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Alberta has recorded 301 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, along with three additional deaths.

According to the province’s website, 29 of its new cases come from the virus variatn first identified in the United Kingdom.

The province has 4,584 active COVID-19 cases and 250 patients currently hospitalized with the virus.

Alberta is reporting a test positivity rate of four per cent.

4:20 p.m.

Prince Edward Island is entering a 72-hour lockdown starting at midnight as the province struggles to contain an outbreak of COVID-19.

The short-term public health order was announced this afternoon as officials reported five new infections of the disease, for a total of 17 cases in the past five days.

The new infections include two males, both in their 20s, and three females, two in their 20s and one in her 50s.

Health officials have identified two clusters of COVID-19 in the cities of Summerside and Charlottetown, and say it’s possible the island has community spread of the virus as many infections cannot be linked to travel.

3 p.m.

Saskatchewan is reporting 141 new COVID-19 cases today, but no new deaths linked to the virus.

The province says its seven-day average of new cases is 146, which it says works out to 11.9 new cases per 100,000 people.

There were 1,662 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the province on Saturday, raising the total number to 78,226 delivered so far.

2:05 p.m.

Manitoba is reporting two new deaths in people with COVID-19.

One was in his 80s, the other was in her 90s, and both were from the Winnipeg health region.

The province says there were 50 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed as of 9:30 a.m. this morning.

Most of Manitoba’s new cases are in the Winnipeg and Northern health regions, with each recording 21 new infections.

So far, the province says it has recorded five cases of the virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

1:50 p.m.

Nova Scotia is reporting three new cases of COVID-19 in the province today.

Health officials say the cases are spread out across the province, with the central, eastern and northern regions each recording one new infection.

Officials say one of the cases is a close contact of a previous case, while two are related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.

Nova Scotia has 38 active cases of COVID-19, with two people currently in hospital.

1 p.m.

Health authorities in Newfoundland and Labrador have diagnosed seven new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total number of active infections to 262.

The province says all seven cases are in the Eastern Health region, which includes St. John’s.

Officials say four of the infections were identified in individuals aged 20 to 39, while one patient was under 20 years old, one was aged 40 to 49 and one was aged 50 to 59.

The new cases identified include three females and four males.

Officials say there are currently 10 people in hospital with COVID-19, with six of those patients in intensive care.

11:30 a.m.

Quebec is reporting 737 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths due to the virus.

Four of the deaths occurred in the last 24 hours, while the rest took place earlier.

Hospitalizations rose by two to 601. Of those, 117 patients are in intensive care, which is five more than a day earlier.

The province gave 12,469 doses of vaccine on Saturday for a total of more than 432,000 since the pandemic began.

11 a.m.

Health officials in New Brunswick say a 90-year-old resident of an adult residential facility in Edmundston has died as a result of underlying complications including COVID-19.

The case brings the total number of deaths in the province related to the novel coronavirus disease to 27.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell says the loss of another New Brunswicker is a sad moment for the province and is something that never gets easier.

The number of active cases in New Brunswick stands at 38, with one patient currently hospitalized in intensive care.

10:45 a.m.

Ontario is expanding its list of vaccine recipients to include those experiencing homelessness even as it passes a bleak new milestone in the fight against COVID-19.

The province has officially logged more than 300,000 COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic and is just shy of 7,000 total deaths.

Ontario added 1,062 new infections to its count today for a total of 300,816, while 20 new deaths bring the overall toll to 6,980.

Meanwhile Toronto says it willbegin vaccinating residents of its shelter system this week after getting the green light from the province over the weekend.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

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Cautious optimism over downward COVID trend – Winnipeg Free Press

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For the first time since the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic gripped Manitoba, the test positivity rate in Winnipeg has dropped below three per cent — a goalpost the province’s top doctor said long ago indicates widespread community transmission.

Public health officials announced two new deaths, 50 additional cases of the virus and 1,866 tests complete as of Sunday morning.

A man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s, both from Winnipeg, are among the now 895 Manitobans who have died from the virus.

The total number of lab-confirmed cases in Manitoba sits at 31,859, of which 1,194 are active.

A total of 192 people are in hospital, while 26 are in the intensive care unit, with 72 and 11 of those cases accounting for active COVID-19 patients, respectively.

No new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, of which there are five cases to date, were reported over the weekend.

The majority of new cases reported are in Manitoba’s north and capital; in both regions, there were 21 new cases.

Also Sunday, the province reported the current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 3.7 per cent provincially and 2.7 per cent in Winnipeg.

Epidemiologist Cynthia Carr called the latest figures “good news,” especially on the variant front.

“I’m always cautious about reacting to one day of data, particularly over a weekend. I like to look at how many people are tested and what the positivity rate is, but certainly, the trend that we’re seeing is a continued, real reduction that we’re sustaining,” said Carr, founder of Winnipeg-based EPI Research Inc.

Manitoba only began publishing the test positivity rate — the percentage of people who have tested positive for the virus of the total number tested during a five-day period — in Winnipeg in late October, saying it is less reliable than the provincial rate because of the smaller sample size.

At that point, the figure was more than triple the current percentage, at 9.9 per cent.

Winnipeg’s test positivity rate peaked at 14.9 per cent in early December.

In the early days of the pandemic, provincial chief medical officer Dr. Brent Roussin warned of the prospect of a three per cent test positivity rate, which he said would signify widespread community transmission and trigger increased restrictions.

Last week, Roussin said the province is considering a further rollback of restrictions when the current public health order expires Friday.

 

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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COVID-19 lockdowns or spring break: provinces split on next steps against pandemic – Global News

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Canada’s COVID-19 hotspots showed diverging approaches to handling the crisis on Sunday, as Ontario and Prince Edward Island prepared for new lockdowns while Quebec entered a week of spring break complete with some activities meant to ease the monotony of life during a global pandemic.

Prince Edward Island announced it was entering a 72-hour lockdown starting at midnight as the province struggled to contain an outbreak of COVID-19.

The short-term public health order was announced as officials reported five new infections of the disease in a province that has seen few cases for most of the pandemic. The Island has now recorded 17 new infections over the past five days.

Health officials identified two clusters of COVID-19 in the cities of Summerside and Charlottetown, and said it’s possible the island has community spread of the virus. The province has a total of just 132 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

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The three-day lockdown requires residents to stay home as much as possible and will close all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, with post-secondary education moving online only.

“We would rather go harder and stronger now than wait for an outbreak like we have seen in other provinces that could put us in an extended period of lockdown for weeks or even months,” Premier Dennis King said late Sunday during a briefing with reporters.

Ontario, meanwhile, passed the 300,000 case mark on Sunday as the government prepared to hit a so-called ’emergency brake’ in two northern public health units grappling with surging case numbers.

The Thunder Bay and Simcoe-Muskoka District health units will enter the lockdown phase of the province’s pandemic response plan on Monday in order interrupt transmission of COVID-19 at a time when new variants are gaining steam.

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The province has also pushed back its spring break until April in an effort to limit community spread.


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Navigating a tax season complicated by COVID-19

Quebec, in contrast, has allowed movie theatres, pools and arenas to open with restrictions in place to give families something to do as the traditional winter break kicks off, even as most other health rules remain in place.

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The province opted to allow students and teachers the traditional March break, even though Premier Francois Legault has said he’s worried about the week off and the threat posed by more contagious virus variants.

Quebec’s health minister said the situation in the province was stable on Sunday, with 737 new cases and nine additional deaths _ even as confirmed cases linked to variants of concern jumped by more than 100 to 137.

Most of the variant cases have been identified as the B.1.1.7 mutation first identified in the United Kingdom, including 84 in Montreal.

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Ontario, meanwhile, reported 1,062 new infections linked to the pandemic on Sunday as it became the first province to record more than 300,000 total cases of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

The country’s chief public health officer urged Canadians on Sunday to continue following public health measures as a way of buying critical time as vaccine programs ramp up.

“Aiming to have the fewest interactions with the fewest number of people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement.

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Canada’s immunization program received a boost last week with the approval of a third COVID-19 vaccine, raising hopes that provinces will be able to inoculate their most vulnerable populations before the more contagious variants can fully take hold.


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Trudeau says COVID-19 case counts, presence of variants being looked at with Canada-U.S. border restrictions


Trudeau says COVID-19 case counts, presence of variants being looked at with Canada-U.S. border restrictions

Toronto announced Sunday that it was expanding the first phase of its COVID-19 vaccination drive to include residents experiencing homelessness, noting that they have a higher risk of serious health impacts due to COVID-19 and are vulnerable to transmission in congregate settings.

Quebec, meanwhile, is set to begin vaccination of the general population on Monday, beginning with seniors 80 and over in the Montreal area, or 85 and over in the rest of the province.

While some regions with extra doses began administering shots late last week, the pace of inoculation will ramp up on Monday when mass vaccination clinics in Montreal throw open their doors.

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Case counts were more stable elsewhere in the country.

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Manitoba reported just 50 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday and two new virus-related deaths, while Saskatchewan saw its overall tally climb by 181 but did not log any new deaths.

Alberta reported three new virus-related deaths and 301 new infections, including 29 identified as variants of concern.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia logged three new cases while officials in Newfoundland and Labrador reported seven.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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