Public health experts in Manitoba and Ottawa are warning the public to reduce the number of people who have close contact with them, as the number of reported contacts of people with COVID-19 rises in the province and across the country.
“It just gives the virus more and more opportunity to spread … It’s definitely worrying,” said Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist in Winnipeg and founder of EPI Research.
“As members of society, we are the substitution in all of this. There is clarity about how this virus is spreading, and how we give it the opportunity to spread. The closer we are to each other for longer periods, the greater the chance of this virus spreading.”
The county said in a press release on Tuesday that the latest cases of COVID-19 reported in Winnipeg were associated with “large numbers of close contacts”. Close contacts are those who have been within two meters of a person with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes.
In April, when the epidemiological restrictions were in effect, the head of the contact tracing unit in Winnipeg said that new cases of COVID-19 had an average of about three close contacts per case.
The head of Public Health in Manitoba, Dr. Brent Rossen, said on Monday that this number has been inflated for recent cases, “This means we have additional people exposed to the virus, and contact tracing becomes more complicated.”
In one case, one case in the Winnipeg Health District reported a total of 50 people in close contact, according to the most recent regional surveillance data.
This was among the highest number of contacts in a single case in Manitoba to date, Rosen told a news briefing on Monday. He said he could not provide further details about the circumstances of the case.
He said nearly 14 percent of those in Manitoba who had contact with COVID-19 cases had contracted the disease.
Rosen said the county is now seeing “exposures in … bars, some restaurants, only at home gatherings.”
“There are circumstances in which people experience symptoms and are discharged and commute and do not undergo testing for days and days after symptoms begin.”
Canada at a Crossroads: Head of Public Health
Manitoba public health officials are not alone in urging the public to follow health advice.
On Tuesday, Dr Teresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health official, warned that COVID-19 could re-emerge in a big way unless Canadians take measures to reduce the number of people they have close contact with.
New modeling from Public Health Canada released Tuesday predicts up to 155,795 cases and up to 9,300 deaths by early October if the current course of the pandemic continues.
Tam said Canada is at a “crossroads”, but that further lockdowns could be avoided if Canadians limit their contacts.
“The future is in all of our hands,” Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said at a press conference on Tuesday in Ottawa.
Prabhat Jha, professor of global health at the University of Toronto School of Medicine, said that the demographics of COVID-19 have changed nationwide, with the new cases being primarily driven by people between the ages of 20 and 39.
“The current clusters of new infections, all over the country, are occurring in young people. The vast majority of them are under the age of forty,” he said. “This is due to close contacts, especially at parties or indoors without a distance or masks.”
So far, the rise in cases across Canada has not led to a parallel rise in hospitalizations and deaths, Jha said. If this can be contained, major shutdowns can be avoided.
“I know it’s very difficult to be patient [enough] To do that, but see what happens next week in Manitoba in terms of an increase in cases this week. “In the meantime, use caution and caution.”
The Prairie Mountain experience demonstrates the power of the audience
It makes sense for Manitobans to report closer contact lists in recent weeks compared to earlier in the pandemic, Carr said, thanks to relaxed epidemic restrictions across the province.
“The reality is that schools are reopening, with nurseries, people … wanting to go out and go to bars and restaurants, there are more opportunities for people to be together,” she said.
She said fatigue from long-term restrictions could play a role as well, though she encouraged what she saw as an increase in mask use among the general public.
Just as a growing number of contacts can fuel a spike in cases, a tighter number of contacts can contain spread, she said.
She cited the recent experience in the Prairie Mountain Health region in the southwest – where cases have fallen sharply after tighter restrictions were imposed following a surge in cases over the summer – as evidence that Manitoba can advance, and public health measures can work.
“There is a possibility of an exponential increase or an exponential decline,” she said.
“In the blink of an eye, Prairie Mountain Health was responsible for half of all active cases, and then … those cases seemed to drop very quickly in no time,” Carr said.
“It can be overwhelming for people, but it does boost for people how quickly we can get over it.”