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Manitoba’s chief public health officer pleaded with people to stay home as much as possible as he revealed another round of high COVID-19 numbers Friday.

Dr. Brent Roussin reported 437 new cases, which kept Manitoba at the top of the country’s per-capita infection rate. The percentage of positive tests stood at 13.7, well above the national average.

In Steinbach, a city of 16,000 people southeast of Winnipeg, the test positivity rate over the last 10 days has been 40 per cent. Between 30 and 40 people have been testing positive every day in the community.

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“When you’re looking at something like 40 per cent, we just know this is a very concerning number and we need things to change in that area right now,” Roussin said.

Steinbach was the site of an anti-mask rally last weekend, although many attendees came from other communities. Roussin said there was no direct link between the event and the rising numbers.

The numbers in the region have been rising for weeks, he added. Last Friday, emergency room nurses at the Steinbach hospital reported they had to triage patients in their cars because there was no room inside.

Roussin said further restrictions could be imposed on Steinbach if the numbers don’t improve, but he did not provide specifics.

Manitoba has already faced a series of tightening rules. The latest measures took effect Friday and forbid retailers from selling non-essential goods in-store and force them to operate at reduced capacity.

Public gatherings are limited to five people outdoors. People cannot have visitors in their homes except for services such as health care and child care. People who live alone are allowed one visitor for socializing.

Roussin said the rules should start to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in the coming days, but he chided people who continue to go out for non-essential reasons. He said he sees a big difference from the spring, when people took care to stay home.

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“I remember driving to work (in the spring) and the streets were empty ... it was quiet, kind of a surreal feeling at that time,” Roussin said.

“Driving to work today, the streets were full.”

Manitoba’s COVID-19 spike has hit personal care homes hard. The military has been brought in to help at one home on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. Paramedics have had to rush to some homes in Winnipeg to make up for staff who are off sick or self-isolating.

On Thursday night, Golden Links Lodge in Winnipeg called in paramedics and asked relatives of residents to come and sit by their bedsides and monitor them for any change in condition.

“We are struggling with staffing as many staff are off sick, reached capacity with picking up shifts, are COVID-19 positive themselves, etc.,” read a note posted by chief executive officer Marcy-Lynn Larner on the home’s Facebook page.

“We are asking the primary caregiver for each resident to consider coming into our home to help care for your loved one. There is risk involved with this and we know that.”

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Larner said relatives would be provided with protective equipment. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said 42 of the 81 residents at Golden Links Lodge had tested positive for the virus.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said one patient at Golden Links was taken to hospital, and a paramedic crew remained at the site on standby Friday.

The Manitoba government increased restrictions on stores and social gatherings Thursday in another attempt to bring down the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in Canada. The Canadian Press

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