While it is unknown at this point if schools will remain in person for the entire year, those in charge are hopeful.
On Wednesday most schools across Manitoba are expected to have their first day back. Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Jazz Atwal says they are expecting a jump in cases due to the school year, but can not say by how much.
"We do anticipate some cases numbers going up for sure once school starts," Atwal says in a Tuesday COVID-19 update. "It is difficult for us to say 'this is what's going to happen.' I just really think we can't do that. We have to see what happens on a week-to-week basis."
He says schools are safe thanks to the measures in place. Right now, Atwal says our case count is "nice and low," which is encouraging for the doctor.
Close to one-third of all COVID cases have been in children younger than 18 since the summer, a statistic that is almost two times higher than Manitoba's overall youth case count. Throughout the pandemic, youth aged zero to 19 made up more than 14 per cent of all COVID cases.
School bell ringing in hope
Since the pandemic began, parents, students, and staff have endured quick changes including at-home learning, something Education Minister Cliff Cullen commends Manitobans for. This year, he is looking forward to seeing students return to the classroom after many ended off the year online.
"We are doing everything we can to make sure that in-room learning is as safe as possible and we thank our partners for doing that with us," Cullen says in a Tuesday press conference.
Understanding that some parents may not be comfortable sending their students back yet, Cullen says schools will be flexible but ensures parents that schools are safe, which the doctor agrees with.
"We have a priority on the Public Health side to ensure that schools are safe so that kids can go to school and can learn and can develop good social skills, have good mental health wellbeing by being at school and partaking in those important developmental milestones that happen within school as well," Atwal says.
COVID-19 reporting in schools will be done in the same way the province previously handled it, including two-week updates. Atwal says it may not look exactly the same as last year, including case and contact management. Those details are not yet finalized.
More than one million dollars is being pledged to continue mental health supports in schools to help with the anxiety many may be feeling.
In the past school year, education Minister Cliff Cullen says homeschooling saw enrolment of around 8,000 students. This year's enrollment dropped back down, now at 2,800.
In Manitoba, 63.9 per cent of all youth aged 12-17 have received two COVID-19 vaccines, and 71.8 percent one dose. Atwal says the best way to keep children safe is to get vaccinated.
All schools in Manitoba will be visited by a vaccination team, offering vaccines.
The province is mandating that school staff be fully vaccinated or test for COVID-19 up to three times a week. Testing details are being worked out, which Cullen says will likely be rapid testing. Staff are not required to share their vaccination status with students.