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Manitoba gearing up for flu season; no provincial mask mandates planned, top doctor says

Manitoba's top doctor says the Manitobans should be prepared for an increase in COVID-19, RSV and Influenza cases, but confirmed the province is not planning any mask mandates in public settings.

Dr. Brent Roussin held a news conference at the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday as the province is on the cusp of another respiratory virus season. He says as per the province's most recent data, COVID-19 and Influenza cases are circulating at low levels right now – similar to pre-pandemic levels.

"It is always hard to predict what the season will eventually turn into, but as per usual we can expect a significant increase in the circulation of those viruses and other respiratory viruses as the season moves on," Roussin said.

The expected increase will lead to a higher demand on the health-care system.

"We do expect to see an increase in respiratory illness in the community, and that means we'll see an increased response to illness in hospital," he said. "We're not going to see the same level of risk as we did in the early pandemic, but every year pre-pandemic we see an increase in admissions in hospital related to respiratory illness."

When asked if the province is considering mask mandates, Roussin said public health will provide recommendations and guidance.

"We're not planning any mask mandates, per se, in the public setting," Roussin said, adding what happens inside the institutions and hospitals will be up to those agencies. "That may be something that will arise during the respiratory season just because it's a much more high-risk setting there."

He said the province is also offering COVID-19 and influenza vaccines this fall, along with pneumococcal vaccine for those over the age of 65. He said while the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines are recommended for all Manitobans six months old and up, the province is strongly recommending the vaccines for those who are at higher risk.

Roussin said in regards to the COVID-19 vaccines, people should wait six months from their last dose before getting the shot.

He said the vaccine shipments are expected to arrive in Manitoba in the next week or two, with the rollout of them expected in mid-October. He said there will be more details to come as the vaccines arrive.

Beyond this, Roussin said Manitobans should remember to stay home when sick, cough into their sleeve, and wash their hands regularly. 

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