Safe September chides Manitoba for lack of transparency about COVID-19 cases in schools

The recent reappearance of COVID-19 cases in schools is just the tip of the iceberg, says an advocacy group for the safety of teachers and students in Manitoba.

Less than a week into the return to school in the province, a Grade 1 class in Steinbach has moved into remote learning and there is a case at another Steinbach school. There have also been reported cases in three schools in Brandon, two in Winnipeg and another in Powerview.

“Frankly, I’m not surprised. We knew this would happen,” said Lauren Hope, a math and science teacher at a Winnipeg high school and a member of Safe September Manitoba.

“What I am surprised about is the lack of response and transparency from the Manitoba government. I mean, we’ve been doing this for 18 months now.”

Safe September formed last year to lobby the government for more resources for teachers and parents to ensure that the return to in-class learning didn’t lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

At a news conference on Monday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said he did not have a complete count of school cases yet.

The province is tracking all cases in schools and will publish that information on an online dashboard at some point soon, he said. Later in the day, a spokesperson said the dashboard will resume on Tuesday, Sept. 14, although it had not been updated by 11 a.m.

“As a teacher, I find it negligent, because I had to be prepared before the first day of school was happening, so why is this coming so late?” she said.

There are several other questions without answers as well, Hope said.

“We still have no idea about what the test-trace-isolate will mean with the delta variant,” she said. Test-trace-isolate is an approach in which people who test positive are asked to isolate and their contacts are traced and then asked to quarantine.

“We do not know how they will be identifying close contacts,” she said. “We know that we’re dealing with a delta variant that’s highly transmissible.”

Hope is urging the province to implement rapid testing at schools several times a week to find potential cases before they spread.

“It is not good enough to find the cases and then contact trace,” she said. “If we really say that our highest priority is keeping kids in school, then we would put the resources into doing that.

“As we watch what’s happening to the west of us right now, we need to be extra vigilant, and having schools in session means that we need to do everything we can to protect those students, the teachers and the staff and their families.”

Alberta reported 4,740 new cases of COVID-19 and 18 new deaths as the province released three days of data on Monday. Alberta Health lists 198 people being treated in intensive care beds, the highest number the province has experienced.

Meanwhile, health officials in British Columbia on Monday announced 1,984 new cases and nine deaths since Friday.

And Saskatchewan broke its own pandemic record on Monday with 449 new cases that day — the highest new case count in the province, breaking the previous record of 441 set on Nov. 20, 2020.

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