Some students in Manitoba will be learning from home for at least two and a half weeks.
Manitoba's Education Minister Cliff Cullen says the province is moving to online learning as of Wednesday. This affects Brandon and Winnipeg students. Extra public health measures will be coming to other schools, including additional PPE.
"It has been an interesting and challenging past 15 months," Cullen says. The minister says it has been their priority to keep schools open and safe.
All extra-curricular activities, organized sports and off-site activities are suspended including indoor singing and indoor use of wind instruments. Physically distanced walks/runs in the local community are allowed.
Cullen says school boards were cautioned Friday that an announcement was coming. Support staff may be impacted, depending on individual school division plans.
Other schools will be closed if they have more than two unconnected cohorts with cases. At this point, seven schools outside of Winnipeg and Brandon will be affected. Schools in communities neighbouring the cities, such as West St. Paul are not moving online. Schools inside the city limit, such as College St. Norbert Collegiate will move online.
Students of critical essential workers, such as nurses, will be allowed to go to school if they are in elementary school, Kindergarten to Grade 6, and cannot find care. Children with disabilities requiring extra care are also allowed to stay in class.
Students whose parents work in the following positions can send their children to school:
- Health/Health Services
- Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education Providers (all teachers, administrators, and support staff)
- Child Care Workers
- Law Enforcement
- Corrections Workers
- Fire and Paramedic First Responders
- Direct Social Services and Child Protection Workers
Roussin and Cullen say they are not seeing widespread COVID-19 transmission in schools. They say the move online is a proactive response. In Winnipeg, 154 of 208 schools, or 74 per cent of schools, have an active COVID-19 case this week.
Twenty per cent of new cases are in school-aged children. Roussin says 208 schools have at least one COVID-19 case, with three-quarters of the affected schools in Winnipeg.
"We just see these rising case numbers in this age cohort... which means we have to take these steps now," Roussin says about younger Manitobans.
Daycares will remain open. Remote-learning students are discouraged from attending child care.
No parent or business supports were announced during the Sunday press conferences.
"I think there are a lot of reasons to still be optimistic.. certainly the hope is that we can get the kids back in to face to face learning this year," Roussin says.
In-person classroom learning is currently set to resume after May 30. The duo could not guarantee schools would reopen in June. Roussin says this will depend on epidemiology.
Several schools have moved to remote learning at various times throughout the 2020/21 school year as outbreaks have been declared, but the province had avoided a province-wide change to schools.
COVID-19 situation in Manitoba
Manitoba's Chief Public Health Officer announced further health order restrictions on Friday evening due to high case numbers and hospitalizations the province.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, Roussin's Deputy, says the combination of tighter restrictions and school moves will make an impact only if the health orders are adhered to.
In a Sunday press briefing, Atwal says school is safe, but what happens outside is not. The doctor says an example of this is sharing food at sports events. He has seen vehicles drop off children from multiple households at school.
Manitoba's five-day test positivity rate is current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 10.9 per cent, and 13 per cent in Winnipeg. The highest test rate Winnipeg has seen was on December 14 at 14.2 per cent.
Atwal says parents are in the hospital after their child got COVID-19 and spread it to them, who had more severe reactions.
Previous calls to learn remotely
On Friday during a press conference, Manitoba's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer says 70 per cent of all COVID-19 cases are from people younger than 40. Half of all hospital admissions in the past week were of people younger than 50, and two-thirds of those were younger than 30.
"Even four or five weeks ago, we were seeing a greater number of patients who were cases (that were aged) a little bit older. Now we are seeing that shift come down to younger populations," Atwal said.
There are currently 210 people in hospital due to COVID.
Weeks prior he said Manitobans aged 10 to 19-years-old were the cohort with the highest growing case numbers.
Near the end of April, the Manitoba Teachers' Society called for a move to remote learning.
“We know this will be disruptive for teachers, students and families, however in the interest of public health and safety, we must absorb the impact of this change,” said James Bedford, MTS president, in a news release at the time. He also said that teachers should have already been vaccinated.
“Priority vaccination was the answer weeks ago and the government refused to act,” Bedford said. “Vaccines alone will no longer make the difference. That is abundantly clear.”
An earlier statement from the Education Minister said other schools will be closed if they have more than two cases and 34 schools outside of Winnipeg and Brandon will be affected. This has since been corrected.