Manitoba school goes remote temporarily after single COVID-19 case detected

A school in the Pine Creek School Division has temporarily switched to remote learning after one positive case in the school community.

Current provincial outbreak protocols states a school outbreak is declared when at least three cases in the same cohort test positive, with the infections associated with the school environment.

But Austin Elementary School in Austin, about 45 kilometres west of Portage la Prairie, elected to move to virtual learning on Wednesday after a single case was detected, said division superintendent Keith Murray.

Murray said about 30 per cent of the school population, comprised of about 120 students and eight or so staff, has been calling in sick in recent days.

“Seeing that very high level of symptoms among the school community, between staff and students, and then getting this positive test, we felt we had to do something while we worked with public health and find out where we’re going,” said Murray.

Murray said the school opted to go to remote learning on its own but remains in talks with public health officials. Come Sunday, if no further cases have been detected, it’s possible Austin Elementary may return to in-class learning as early as Tuesday, he said.

But even so, Murray said the division is having to contend with two ongoing challenges, including a higher than ideal number of unvaccinated people in the community. Vaccination uptake for the North Norfolk health district that encompasses division schools sat at 53.8 per cent as of Thursday.

“It’s an added pressure to us, without a doubt, in that it’s just one less thing [to] help stop this pandemic from continuing like this,” said Murray.

The other ongoing challenge is there isn’t enough substitute teachers.

“We have just a chronic shortage of substitute teachers,” Murray said.

“There comes a point when it becomes problematic even to conduct classes just because we’re actually short of teachers, and we’re actually going to be running into that same situation in several schools over the next few weeks if the current pattern continues.”

Murray praised the principal and school staff of Austin Elementary for remaining vigilant with mask and physical distancing protocols.

“The masks are an annoyance, but they don’t define us,” he said. “There is no panic, the pressure on our teachers is higher than normal.”

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