Testing their patience Frustrated educators face long wait for virus-testing results

As public health officials insist keeping schools open is what’s best for students and working parents — despite a spike in COVID-19 cases, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society questions why virus testing for teachers is not being fast-tracked.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/11/2020 (693 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As public health officials insist keeping schools open is what’s best for students and working parents — despite a spike in COVID-19 cases, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society questions why virus testing for teachers is not being fast-tracked.

The Free Press spoke with two Winnipeg teachers who have expressed frustration this week over extensive wait times. In both instances, the educators self-isolated immediately after experiencing symptoms, sought testing, and waited at least five days for a result.

“If we’re going to be vigilant, you have to get results back to us,” said one teacher, who spoke to the Free Press on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution at work.

On Wednesday morning, the teacher, who lives in Winnipeg but works in a rural school division, was still awaiting a result. She said the headache and nausea she experienced late last week has subsided, but she remains desperate for a definitive answer about her health.

In September, COVID-19 exposures affected 32 schools in Winnipeg. That figure has since grown to at least 114. Data show 107 Winnipeg schools had an exposure in October — including 23 of the schools that also reported exposures during September. To date, upwards of 150 schools in Manitoba have been affected.

James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, wants the province to identify and prioritize samples from teachers. Currently, only health-care worker samples are to identify their tests in order to minimize turnaround time at a lab when possible. (Mikaela macKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The Winnipeg teacher said she worries she brought the virus to the community where she works and is concerned it could be spreading at her school, while she anxiously sits at home on hours-long calls with HealthLinks waiting for an update. (So far, she said eight hours on the phone hasn’t yielded results.)

Testing sites collect information from patients if they are a transport worker, educator, child-care provider or health-care professional, but that is primarily for tracking purposes.

Only health-care worker samples are marked to identify their tests in order to minimize turnaround time at a lab when possible.

James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, wants that to change.

“If for nothing more, it will potentially limit their time away from their students in classrooms, which, quite frankly, is where they want to be,” said Bedford, who represents upwards of 16,000 public school teachers in the province.

“But it also goes a long way in alleviating that stress because I cannot imagine what waiting those five days is like on the teacher and the teacher’s family and household.”

“But it also goes a long way in alleviating that stress because I cannot imagine what waiting those five days is like on the teacher and the teacher’s family and household.” — James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society

The province’s top doctor has repeatedly said schools will inevitably see more cases as COVID-19 spreads in the community. At the same time, Dr. Brent Roussin has insisted in-class learning is important for both students and families.

“We know there’s so much value in having our kids in school,” Roussin said during a Wednesday news conference, during which he applauded schools for being “fantastic partners” in ensuring COVID-19 isn’t being spread between staff and students during school hours.

Manitoba Public Health data show at least 231 cases have been connected to schools in the province’s capital since the start of the 2020-21 academic year. In some instances, it’s taken as long as 13 days before a school community has been notified about an exposure.

Bedford said rapid testing would shorten that period.

“This would just be another measure to keep schools as safe as they can be,” he said.

Manitoba Health did not respond to a request for comment on the subject Wednesday.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

History

Updated on Wednesday, November 4, 2020 8:45 PM CST: updates numbers in story.

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