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City Schools Go to Remote Learning, Rural Schools Face Additional Restrictions

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Cara Dowse

At a press conference this afternoon, Minister of Education Cliff Cullen appeared alongside Dr. Brent Roussin to announce changes to the public health orders as they relate to our province’s schools.

Starting on Wednesday, May 12, all schools in Winnipeg and Brandon, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, will go to full remote learning—and remain that way until at least May 30.

“Keeping schools open and safe for students, staff and families has been at the forefront of our COVID-19 response planning, and our priority has been to have students in classrooms with face-to-face instruction to the greatest extent possible,” says Minister Cullen. “However, increased transmission of the variants of concern, increased case numbers in larger centres and rising numbers of cases in younger people means we are moving to remote learning in Winnipeg and Brandon to better protect students, families, teachers and staff.”

For schools remaining open in other parts of Manitoba, the following additional measures will be implemented during this period:

• schools with multiple cases (outside of same household cases) will be moved proactively to remote learning as per existing guidance.
• school officials can require students and/or staff who are showing symptoms to stay home for 10 days and encourage them to seek testing. Household members without symptoms should also self-isolate (quarantine) until the sick individual’s test result is received.
• all extracurricular activities, organized sports and off-site activities are suspended, except for physically-distanced walks/runs in the local community.
• no indoor singing and no indoor use of wind instruments will be allowed.
• all other public health measures will remain in effect.

“While some of these people may not have caught the virus in school or spread it to others in schools because they were self-isolating at home, the rising case numbers mean we need to take steps now to break the cycle of transmission and reduce case counts,” says Dr. Roussin. “Public health officials will continue to work with school leadership to actively monitor the situation, and move additional schools outside Winnipeg and Brandon to remote learning if and when the data indicates it is needed.”

The hope is that the epidemiology will allow for schools to reopen in June, with vaccine eligibility greatly expanded in the next few weeks, including to young people as young as 12.

The minister noted schools in full remote learning will be able to accommodate Kindergarten to Grade Six children of critical services workers who cannot make alternative care arrangements if they are not required to self-isolate.

In addition, schools will also be able to accommodate kindergarten to Grade 12 high-risk students and those with special needs.

“While schools have done an excellent job protecting staff and students throughout the pandemic, there is a great deal of community transmission at this time, which is impacting our schools. This approach is needed to address community transmission and will support Manitoba’s efforts in moving through and out of the third wave,” adds Dr. Roussin. “Between the significant restrictions that came into effect today and this proactive move to protect school communities, we believe we can bend the curve, reduce COVID-19 cases in Manitoba to ease the strain on our health system and reduce the risk of people getting sick, while we provide more vaccinations to people across the province.”

At this time, childcare facilities will remain open, including sites in Winnipeg and Brandon. However, children who are on remote learning at school should not attend childcare facilities before or after school hours. All childcare facilities will also follow the additional guidance for schools that remain open in communities outside Winnipeg and Brandon.

Effective this week, shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the childcare sector will increase from 100,000 units per month to 1.1 million units per month to meet increased mask use requirements. Currently, public health officials are not recommending changes to cohort sizes, as there is less evidence of transmission in younger age groups.

Public health officials will continue to review data and other measures to determine if changes are needed.

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