COVID-19 in Canada: Winnipeg faces harsh five-person bubble, while Ontario's York Region rolls back to modified Stage 2 as numbers head in 'wrong direction'

For more on today’s top stories and the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country, please refer to our live updates below throughout the day, as well as our COVID-19 news hub.

B.C. health officials caution the public on how to vote safely

In a joint statement, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, and Stephen Brown, deputy minister of health, provided guidance on voting as people in the B.C. are just over a week away from the provincial election.

“If you are planning on voting in person, remember to give others the space to stay safe when going to vote, wash your hands before and after voting, and consider using a mask if distancing is a challenge,” the statement reads. “If you are self-isolating due to COVID-19 or are feeling unwell, you can still vote without going to a voting place. Contact Elections BC at 1 800 661-8683 for more information or assistance.”

The province reported 155 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including nine epi-linked cases, and one additional death. There are 1,513 active cases in B.C and 3,713 people are under active public health monitoring.

There has been one new confirmed community outbreak at the Tim Hortons in Merritt.

COVID-19 restrictions added in Winnipeg for two weeks

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health, and health minister Cameron Friesen announced new measures will be put in place in the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region for two weeks, beginning on Monday, Oct. 19.

These new public health measures include:

  • Closing all beverage rooms, entertainment facilities, casinos and bingo halls

  • Lowering indoor and outdoor gathering sizes from 10 to five (not including household members during a private gathering inside the home)

  • Reducing group/table sizes in restaurants and lounges from 10 to five and reducing capacity at these locations to 50 per cent

  • Capacity at retail businesses will be reduced to 50 per cent, including lowering gathering sizes from 10 to five in food courts and common areas

  • Reducing the number of spectators to 25 per cent of a site’s capacity for after-school activities and sporting events

  • Capacity of museums, galleries and libraries will be reduced to 50 per cent, requiring sites to collect contact information for all attendees

  • Gyms and fitness centres must collect contact information for all attendees

Dr. Roussin said he is “quite concerned” about the number of cases in Winnipeg. He revealed the test positivity rate is 5.2 per cent across Manitoba, but 6.3 per cent in Winnipeg. The province reported 75 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, with 63 in the Winnipeg region.

“We need to reduce the community transmission of this virus,” he said. “We need to reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths, and to do that we need to keep our contacts down and focus on the fundamentals.”

Minister Friesen said there was possibly “too much high-fiving going on” after a three-week period in the summer when there wasn’t a single COVID-19 case.

“There was no way in which we could suggest that we were done with COVID-19, but it seemed to be what some people were interpreting,” he said. “I think that had the effect of having people let heir guard down and we have seen what the result of that can be.”

“Now, as the weather changes, they see the prospect of a long and cold winter ahead of them. It’s a bit like running a marathon...when you don’t know how long the race is.”

Quebecers need to reduce contacts by 25 per cent

At a press conference on Friday, Quebec’s health minister Christian Dubé addressed a study from the Institut national de santé publique du Quebec (INSPQ), the province’s public health research institute, which indicates that if Quebecers can reduce their contacts by 25 per cent there will be a decline in COVID-19 spread and hospitalizations.

“Quebecers have made great effort to limit their contacts,” Dubé said. “Our efforts are paying off but we must continue if we want the cases to decline.”

The health minister said if the public can reduce their daily contacts from five to four, it will make a significant impact in two weeks.

Another study, also released earlier on Friday, by the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) indicates an expected increase in hospitalization in the Montreal region, but less severe than previously anticipated.

Quebec reported 1,055 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, with 14 more people hospitalized.

Ontario adds restrictions to York Region in an effort to ‘avoid a full lockdown’

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced that as of Monday, Oct. 19, York Region will move into the “modified” Stage 2 of COVID-19 restrictions for a period of 28 days.

Just like Toronto, Peel and Ottawa, this will include the closure gyms, indoor dining and cinemas. Limits on social gatherings and organized public events is also being reduced to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, where physical distancing can be maintained.

“By all accounts, the indicators are going in the wrong direction,” Ford said. “We’re seeing a rapid increase in the rate of infection with the positivity rate of 2.77 per cent above the high alert threshold of 2.5 per cent.”

“Most concerning of all, critical care admissions are reaching alarming levels.”

The premier repeatedly said he “hates” adding these restrictions but “we need to avoid a full lockdown.”

Ford also commented on people travelling from more restricted areas of Ontario to less restricted areas. He said people shouldn’t be doing that, especially to go to gyms or other fitness facilities.

“Try to stay at home...It’s just going to spread even more,” the premier said. “Stay within your area.”

On Friday, Ontario reported 712 new COVID-19 cases with 213 in Toronto, 135 in Peel, 108 in Ottawa and 62 in York Region. There are currently 261 with the virus in hospitals, 67 in ICU.

‘We do not have any problem with the supply’

With people across Canada being encouraged to get the flu shot as COVID-19 continues to spread, Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott reassured the public that there isn’t a “shortage” of flu vaccine, although many pharmacies have been running out of supply.

“Everyone who wants to receive a flu shot will be able to get one,” Elliott said. “They will be receiving regularly scheduled shipments.”

She added that the “good news” in this situation is that people are very eager to get the flu shot these year.

“We do not have any problem with the supply,” Elliott said. “They are coming in on schedule from global manufacturers.”

‘Resurgence’ in COVID-19 cases a concern for federal officials

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, stressed that the “resurgence” of COVID-19 cases impacting many parts of the country is “concerning” and should be “top of mind” as safer activities are planned for the fall and winter season.

She said that with the start of the influenza season, getting the flu shot is critically important because “having both illnesses close together in time or at the same time could put you at higher risk for severe illness.”

Dr. Tam added that depending on the epidemiology in different locations, the level of viral transmission risk changes and that’s why listening to local health authorities should be everyone’s first step.

Long-term care facilities ‘haven’t done a good enough job’

When asked about the federal government’s plan to to equalize norms in long-term care facilities, despite their operations falling under provincial jurisdiction, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the proposal is around “sharing best practices” but “we’ve seen that those institutions haven’t done a good enough job, in this pandemic particularly.”

“If this pandemic has shown us anything it’s that there are gaps that have long existed and cracks within which our most vulnerable can slip in our institutions,” Trudeau said. “To not take the moment of this crisis to reflect on how we can improve outcomes for everyone would be completely irresponsible.”

“We look forward to working with provinces across all jurisdictions to look at how we can ensure that every single senior, that every family member thinking about putting their mom and dad into long-term care, can be reassured that they’ll be well taken care of.”

The prime minister went on to send a message to children dealing the with pandemic, in advance of Trudeau’s son, Xavier, celebrating his thirteenth birthday this weekend - also marking Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s birthday on Oct. 18.

“Not having a party is tough but as families, as Canadians and as kids, we need to keep doing our part to keep safe, to protect our grandparents, to make sure that we’re slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Trudeau said. “We’ve asked an awful lot of everyone across the country, especially kids, but I want you to know that we’re going to continue asking a lot of you because I know you’re capable of it.”

200 schools on COVID-19 alert or outbreak

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, revealed at a press conference on Friday the test positivity rate in the province is at 2.24 per cent.

There are currently 200 active alerts or outbreaks in schools across the province, totalling 489 COVID-19 cases. Of these schools, 91 are currently experience an outbreak, with 22 “on watch” with more than five cases. In Alberta, an outbreak is declared when there are at least two cases in a school.

Dr. Hinshaw also indicated there is an outbreak in the cardiology unit at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton, with three patients testing positive. An outbreak has also been declared at one unit of the Leduc Community Hospital after two patients tested positive for the virus.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health said Calgary is shifting to the “watch list” with 686 active cases in the city. Dr. Hinshaw said several outbreaks in Calgary have been linked to social gatherings. No additional measures are being recommended for the city at this time.

Dr. Hinshaw highlights she continues to be “concerned” about the situation in Edmonton, accounting for 54 per cent of active cases in Alberta.

She said the province is going into a “cold, dark time of year” and Albertans need to “hold on to the seeds of hope” and all do their part to protect one another.

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