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Province abandons dashboard for COVID cases in schools

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Manitoba’s COVID-19 school dashboard has been blank for the last two weeks — but that does not mean students and school staffers have suddenly stopped contracting the virus.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (342 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s COVID-19 school dashboard has been blank for the last two weeks — but that does not mean students and school staffers have suddenly stopped contracting the virus.

The virtual tables, which are updated on Tuesdays and Thursdays, have been adjusted throughout the pandemic to provide K-12 employees, families and members of the public with information about active and historic novel coronavirus caseloads.

The province stopped entering information about student and staff cases on Feb. 10, but failed to inform the public about it on the dashboard website — which has, in turn, prompted questions about whether the charts are broken.

(The province briefly announced the change in one line at the bottom of a news release on Feb. 11.)

“It was never quite accurate, but it was better than nothing – and now we have nothing,” said Lauren Hope, co-founder of the Safe September MB, a collective of parents, educators and community members who continue to advocate for enhanced COVID-19 protocols in schools.

A public spreadsheet, which has been compiled by anonymous individuals who crowdsource school exposure letters via social media, has tracked more cases than the province’s dashboard at various points throughout both the 2020-21 and current school years.

Between the mismatch and Manitoba’s changing definitions about school outbreaks, Hope said the dashboard only provided a rough outline of the true COVID-19 situation.

The dashboard currently states that there have been nil student and staff cases, no schools with one or more cases, and zero K-12 buildings fully in remote learning throughout the last 14 days. It shows that a single community notification letter was issued in that timeframe.

Another table showing the cumulative tally of cases throughout the 2021-22 school year is also mostly blank. On Feb. 1, the table showed at least 6,000 cases had been connected to schools since Labour Day.

Hope said she doesn’t understand why the province is lifting mandates at the same time as it is limiting the data that is made public to allow people to make informed decisions in the context of current COVID-19 cases and transmission.

A provincial spokesperson indicated officials continue to report both the total number of entire schools in remote learning and community notification letters issued on a biweekly basis.

“With the changes in public reporting, Feb. 10 was the last time that student and staff case data were included on the dashboard,” they wrote in an email.

Widespread reliance on rapid tests, increasingly limited PCR eligibility, and a halt in contact tracing have made the dashboard figures less reliable since the start of 2022.

School divisions have relied on families and staff to self-report positive tests since in-person classes resumed in January and publish that data however they see fit.

The Louis Riel School Division has launched its own dashboards to chart student and staff absenteeism related to COVID-19.

The number of students absent from class because of either a personal positive test, they were showing symptoms, or were following public health directives to isolate because of an exposure peaked at 882 last month. Five per cent of the student population in the southeast Winnipeg division did not come to class for one of the above reasons on Jan. 21.

Those figures had dropped to 105 and 0.8 per cent, respectively, on Wednesday.

The province has alerted school leaders to notify officials when they start to see unusually high absenteeism rates or increased reports of positive cases in any community. If it is determined necessary, the province may initiate a local asymptomatic rapid testing surveillance program or temporarily move an individual class or school to remote learning.

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 Sunday, February 27, 2022 2:03 PM CST: Adds details regarding lack of notice on province's COVID-19 school dashboard.

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