Creep up of COVID cases causes classroom concern

With virtually no COVID-19 restrictions in place, some schools are recording an increase in novel coronavirus activity — a trend prompting public health to issue alerts and worrying parents and educators alike ahead of spring break.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/03/2022 (193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With virtually no COVID-19 restrictions in place, some schools are recording an increase in novel coronavirus activity — a trend prompting public health to issue alerts and worrying parents and educators alike ahead of spring break.

At least four different community notification letters — notices sent out on a case-by-case basis that indicate public health officials have either identified increased virus transmission in a school, initiated a rapid testing program as a result of higher-than-usual absenteeism, or recommended temporary remote learning for one or more classes — have been issued to families in Manitoba over the last 20 days. A minimum of two letters were sent out this week alone.

Winnipeg mother Britt Bauer said she is unfazed by such emails after two years of living in a pandemic, and the latest one from Luxton School was particularly unsurprising, given recent events.

Families in Manitoba’s largest division were informed Wednesday about “increased COVID-19 cases and respiratory disease activity” in the elementary building at 111 Polson Ave.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg mother Britt Bauer said she is unfazed by such emails after two years of living in a pandemic.

“(It said): ‘Within the last 14 days,’ and what’s happened in the last 14 days?” said Bauer, who has a son in Grade 4 at Luxton. “People are starting to take their masks off.”

Bauer said she will continue limiting indoor playdates and spring break plans will be low-key for another year in a row to limit the risk of contracting COVID-19 or spreading it to loved ones. As far as she is concerned, the near-complete loosening of public health measures was premature because ICU capacity remains high.

Both she and her son were wearing masks even while simply waiting outside the school around lunchtime Wednesday.

Cases have been low overall since the Omicron wave, although there have been some pockets of activity, said Radean Carter, spokeswoman for the Winnipeg School Division.

“Our families are being very responsible in monitoring their child’s symptoms and ensuring students with definite COVID symptoms aren’t coming to school and they are testing them when they can.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Families in Manitoba’s largest division were informed Wednesday about “increased COVID-19 cases and respiratory disease activity” in the elementary building at 111 Polson Ave.

The number of family-reported student absences on the Louis Riel School Division’s public dashboard was 151 on Wednesday, a far drop from the Omicron peak of 883 at the end of January.

That figure has fluctuated in recent weeks, but it has crept up overall since a record 2022-low March 4, when only 90 students were absent from school daily because a student had either tested positive, was showing symptoms, or following public health advice to isolate after an exposure.

One principal in Winnipeg provided both anecdotal and numerical evidence school cases, which are no longer tracked by the province, are on the rise.

In addition to colleagues at other schools and other people in the principal’s inner circle becoming ill, they said a cluster of their school staff roster has tested positive this month. Before March, not a single employee at the school had contracted COVID-19 when classes were in session throughout the 2021-22 school year, the principal said, adding numerous students have become ill in recent days.

“The nuttiest part of this to me is that (public health officials) still only now recommend– and I’ll underline that word: recommend — that masks be worn, even in the affected cohort.” – School principal

“The nuttiest part of this to me is that (public health officials) still only now recommend — and I’ll underline that word: recommend — that masks be worn, even in the affected cohort,” the principal said.

The school leader noted while approximately 90 per cent of students and staff continue to wear face coverings to class even though they are not mandated, there has been a shift in how strictly and properly people use the personal protective equipment.

“We have a mask mandate that’s been lifted, we have an isolation mandate that’s been lifted, and the province is no longer testing or tracking. So in what way is the public able to assess — and is public health, for that matter — the degree to which the virus is permeating in the community, particularly in the school level?” the principal added.

An elementary school educator in Winnipeg, who is currently sick at home with COVID-19, and had to pause an interview Wednesday on several occasions to cough, echoed the concerns about the dearth of protections.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Robin Arnold puts a mask on his grandson Gabriel Reyes Arnold while dropping him off after lunch at Luxton School.

“The last couple of years, teaching in a pandemic has been crazy, but, last year, at least we had a lowered class size and that made a world of difference,” the teacher said, adding she currently has a full classroom of young students, and a quarter of them are no longer masking.

March has been especially difficult because many families sent their children back to school after Omicron peaked, she said.

An additional change, as a result of the province pivoting to promote individual responsibility in the pandemic response, is teachers with COVID-19 need a doctor’s note to prove they cannot work if they are away for several days in a row. That figure varies from division to division.

The classroom teacher said her division’s human resources department would not accept a photo of her positive rapid antigen test in order to prove she needs time to recover. Earlier in the pandemic, teachers could take two weeks off work without issue if they contracted the virus that causes COVID-19.

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.

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