Manitoba needs to do more to protect students as COVID-19 case counts rise, teacher says

As COVID-19 cases rise in Manitoba, one teacher worries the province isn’t doing enough to keep the virus out of schools. 

The province’s online dashboard reports a total of 916 cases of COVID-19 associated with K-12 schools among students or staff since the start of the school year. A third of those cases were reported in the last two weeks. 

The climbing case numbers don’t surprise Lauren Hope, a teacher and co-founder of Safe September, a group that advocates for greater COVID-19 safety measures in schools.

“The only surprising thing is we’re doing this now for the fourth time, and using the same strategies which appear to be wait and see what happens, which is frankly negligent,” she said.

“We’ve had more declared outbreaks since Sept 7 until now, than we did in the entire school year last year.”

Hope wants the province to take action by installing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in classrooms and providing rapid tests to schools and families.

She also wants the province to mandate vaccines for eligible youth involved in sports.

“I am absolutely not convinced that the province is doing enough, and that starts with, where was our minister of health and where was our new premier?” Hope said.

“We need them front and centre to say that they’re looking after things. And this wait-and-see approach is frankly infuriating.”

According to the Manitoba government, there have been more than 1,200 COVID-19 cases in those age 19 and under in the past month.

Nearly 40 per cent of those cases have been in the Southern Health Region.

Eight patients under the age of 20 have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 since Oct. 26. Two of those patients were admitted to an intensive care unit.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer says health officials are watching the numbers.

“We just know that there’s a huge impact of sending kids home from school, and so we have to balance that,” said Dr. Brent Roussin during a news conference on Wednesday.

“Not that we haven’t done it before, not that we haven’t done it currently. We have places where we’ve had … outbreaks, where we’ve had to send classes to remote learning and we’ll continue to do that,” he said.

Roussin also hinted that further health restrictions could be announced in the coming days.

Manitoba Teachers Society president James Bedford told CBC News the best place for students to learn is in a physically safe classroom.

“We cannot speculate on health orders that have not yet been announced, however we will continue to work with public health officials to ensure that learning takes place in a manner that ensures the safety and security of our school communities,” he said in an email statement.

Hope says schools are doing their best to follow current recommendations.

Adding public health measures outside school could also help make sure they can stay open, she said.

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