September 28, 2020

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John Pritchard first school with 'code orange'

Virus transmission suspected at North Kildonan school

Public health officials declared the first code orange at a Manitoba school on Wednesday, after seven COVID-19 cases were confirmed, sending three cohorts of students home in a test of the province’s remote learning backup plan.

Winnipeg’s John Pritchard School is the first in the province where it’s believed the virus has spread within the school.

"This is the first that we’ve been aware of," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.

"We’re still doing our investigation, but we are still considering this transmission within the school," he said at a media briefing with Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

Public health officials advised parents and guardians Tuesday night that Grade 4/5 split class, grades 6, 7 and 8 as well as the before- and after-school program at John Pritchard would switch to remote learning for 14 days.

The time may be lengthened or shortened as the investigation continues. Any close contacts connected to the cases have been identified, contacted and advised to self-isolate. Others are being told to watch for symptoms.

"We have a single cohort (that’s) mostly involved, and a single individual outside that cohort that we’ve been unable to link," Roussin said.

Another cohort was included because it has a link to one of the involved cohorts, said Manitoba’s top doctor, who would not provide any information that might identify the people infected.

All other grades and cohorts can remain at school, Roussin said.

COVID testing sites swamped

Public health officials reported 23 new cases of the novel coronavirus in Manitoba on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 283.

Twenty of the cases are in Winnipeg, two cases are in the Interlake-Eastern health region and one case is in the Northern Health region.

In Winnipeg, public health reported a list of possible public exposures to COVID-19 involving one previously announced case: on Sept. 5 at the Tavern United on St. Matthews Avenue, U Putz on McPhillips Street, McPhillips Street Station and the Hampton Inn near the airport on Berry Street; and on Sept. 6 at CF Polo Park Shopping Centre.

Public health officials reported 23 new cases of the novel coronavirus in Manitoba on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 283. 

Twenty of the cases are in Winnipeg, two cases are in the Interlake-Eastern health region and one case is in the Northern Health region. 

In Winnipeg, public health reported a list of possible public exposures to COVID-19 involving one previously announced case: on Sept. 5 at the Tavern United on St. Matthews Avenue, U Putz on McPhillips Street, McPhillips Street Station and the Hampton Inn near the airport on Berry Street; and on Sept. 6 at CF Polo Park Shopping Centre. 

Times are listed online here.

Public health reported another possible exposure at Parkview Place Long Term Care Home at 440 Edmonton St. in Winnipeg on Sept. 11 and 12 involving a health-care worker. The care home has been moved to a "critical" (red) level on the pandemic response system to protect staff and vulnerable residents with visits to Parkview now restricted.

A day after COVID-19 testing sites in the Winnipeg were swamped, with some having to turn people away, the province's chief of public health said it is beefing up its COVID-19 testing capacity.

"We are working on an overall testing strategy that involves sample collecting sites, the lab and the reporting," Dr. Brent Roussin said at a media briefing Wednesday, when the five-day COVID-19 positivity rate was 1.5 per cent. He couldn't say when there would be an expansion to accommodate the rise in demand for COVID-19 testing.

"We are working on every aspect of that to ensure we can ramp up the volume of testing and work on our turn-around time."

There were 1,266 laboratory tests conducted on Tuesday - well below the system capacity, said Roussin. More people are now going for testing, he said. Responding to demand that fluctuates "does pose a challenge," he said. In April, the health care system put elective surgeries and procedures on hold anticipating an influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations that didn't materialize. That freed up health care staff to help out with collecting the nasopharyngeal swab samples, said Roussin."People were not doing their normal work so shifting people from other areas was easy at that time."

Now the system is trying to catch up on the backlog of rescheduled surgeries and diagnostic tests, and he couldn't say when they could marshal the resources to be able to collect more samples from Manitobans lining up to get tested.

All seven cases at John Pritchard were asymptomatic at school, then developed symptoms and were tested, said Roussin.

Initially, when the first COVID-19 case was discovered there, public health advised the risk of transmission was low and face masks were worn. Now, with indications the virus has spread in the school — prompting the pandemic response system to declare it a "restricted" code orange — Roussin said officials are reviewing how they evaluated the risk.

"We’re going to look at those transmission chains," the public health chief said. "It’s too early to say whether the first diagnosed case was actually the index (source) case or not.

"Like anything in this pandemic, were going to review, we’re going to learn, if needed, and apply what we learned."

At John Pritchard School, the shift to remote learning will affect at least 250 students, said Goertzen. The school, like others in the province, was prepared, he said.

"School divisions back in June were asked to prepare reports for different scenarios," said Goertzen. "One of these was remote learning. They were able to start that process today: teachers would be connecting with students, ensuring that there’s an at-home learning environment that’s very different than what we had in March."

Back then, at the start of the pandemic, Manitoba schools were ordered to close with little time to prepare for remote learning.

Classes resumed Sept. 8 and the virus has shown up at several Manitoba schools, with one case each at New Era School in Brandon, Winnipeg’s Churchill High School, Daniel McIntyre Collegiate, Beaverlodge Elementary, St. Aidan’s Christian, and now seven cases at John Pritchard School.

Goertzen said there were 450 school-related COVID-19 cases across Canada as of Wednesday. In Manitoba, the virus is showing up in the community, so it was inevitable it would appear in schools, he said.

 

Chart showing active cases of COVID-19 by regional health authority"There are 220,000 students and tens of thousands of teachers," said Goertzen. "Of course, we knew there would be cases within the school system and we wanted to ensure there would be a quick response when those cases arose," he said.

The principal and staff at John Pritchard School quickly informed parents and guardians and worked well into Tuesday evening cleaning the school so it would be prepared to reopen to the remaining students Wednesday, said Goertzen.

Under code-orange restrictions, the school has to ensure there are two metres of physical distance between students in the classroom, said Roussin. With 250 learning remotely now, that shouldn’t be difficult.

"That’s what the opportunity is there," said Roussin. "Now that there is some proportion of students who are self-isolating, they’ll be able to meet the two-metre requirement because of that added space."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the outbreak in the Winnipeg school illustrates the need for smaller class sizes to ensure two metres of physical distancing between students.

He said the Pallister government should make the necessary investments to ensure this happens.

Map showing active cases of COVID-19 by Winnipeg health districts

"It is clear that with lower numbers of students in classes, more distance in between desks, we can help prevent future outbreaks," Kinew said. "We can help keep our kids safe." The NDP leader said the John Pritchard School situation underscores the need for the federal and provincial governments to implement the promised paid sick-leave program during the pandemic.

"All those parents who got the notification last night that they couldn’t take their kid to school in the morning would have had to take a sick day today," he said.

If Ottawa doesn’t step forward quickly to address the issue, the province should initiate at least a temporary paid sick-leave program so parents don’t lose income, Kinew said.

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society is "deeply concerned" about the welfare of students and staff at John Pritchard School and funding from the provincial and federal levels can’t come quickly enough, MTS president James Bedford said Wednesday.

"There is $185 million in provincial and federal funding available for safety measures in schools. MTS would like to see those funds deployed quickly and effectively in the best interests of all Manitobans," he said.

The organization is calling for the province to provide a comprehensive COVID-19 response plan that is consistent in all schools and to use funding in part to hire additional substitute teachers to ensure classrooms can maintain physical distancing guidelines.

— with files from Larry Kusch and Malak Abas

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, September 16, 2020 at 11:42 PM CDT: Updates story to final version.

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