N95 masks coming to one Manitoba school division amid calls for vaccine prioritization

Unlike the first two waves, Manitoba’s third wave of coronavirus cases includes variants of concern, which has school officials looking for more ways to keep classrooms safe.

Brian O’Leary, superintendent of the Seven Oaks School Division, is ordering 75,000 N95 masks for his front-line staff.

He said it will be enough to supply them with one mask a day for the remainder of the school year.

“With the variants, we are a little concerned that they’re affecting people between 30 and 50 which is most of our school staff,” O’Leary said.

The Manitoba government isn’t currently recommending N95 masks be worn in schools, but O’Leary said he wants to get through the school year in the safest way possible.

“I would hope that we’re all asking ourselves at this point, ‘What can we be doing to make things better?’ This is one thing we can do so we chose to do it,” O’Leary said.

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Read more: Manitoba in worse COVID-19 position than fall lockdown: Osler

The province’s COVID-19 dashboard for students and staff shows there are currently 152 coronavirus cases in 76 Manitoba schools. Of those, 39 are variant of concern cases.

Since the beginning of the school year, there have been a total of 2,650 cases, including 68 variants of concern, according to the dashboard.

Students make up roughly 75 per cent of all cases.

It’s believed most students are catching the virus outside the classroom, but James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, said he’s still concerned.

“Students may not yet be contracting COVID-19 in school, but that doesn’t mean they’re not potentially coming into schools infected by the virus and potentially spreading it to those who work in schools,” Bedford said.

Read more: Bowman among those calling for changes to Manitoba vaccine prioritization

Bedford is calling on the Manitoba government to prioritize front-line school staff for the vaccine.

He said they have been through a lot already since the start of the pandemic.

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“Now we’re getting frustrated by the lack of action on vaccines,” Bedford said.

On Thursday, Education Minister Cliff Cullen said he understands teachers would like to be prioritized, but they are not the only ones asking.

He said public health officials are currently reviewing the rollout strategy.

“I appreciate the information coming from the Manitoba Teachers’ Society and obviously we feed that information into public health and at the end of the day public health will be making recommendations when it comes to the vaccine rollout,” Cullen said.

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