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There are a few things students and parents should consider as classes resume next week.
For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic in Manitoba is largely under control. There has been an uptick in cases in some parts of the province over the past few weeks. It has been concentrated mostly in the Brandon area and some Hutterite colonies. The number of confirmed cases in Winnipeg continues to be low.
The small increase in cases in Manitoba has caused anxiety and fear among some. That’s understandable. Unfortunately, it has been made worse by the obsession with daily case numbers, which distorts the real risks around the disease.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 (one of the most important metrics to follow) is very low, at 12, including only one in intensive care, as of Thursday.
Manitoba has seen 16 total COVID-19 deaths, but the per capita deaths (per 100,000) is 1.02, among the lowest in the country. The test positivity rate (the percentage of those tested who have the disease) has been dropping, from a peak of 3.1 per cent last month to 1.3 per cent.
Far more people are now wearing face masks in indoor public places than two or three weeks ago. People continue to social distance.
There is plethora of public health orders in force, with specific application to schools, restaurants, retail outlets and just about every other public place. Masks are now mandatory in City of Winnipeg buildings and on city buses. Most university students will be learning remotely this year.
We are doing — more or less — everything reasonably possible to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Most who are infected with the disease will, at most, become mildly ill. But the virus can result in severe outcomes, including death, especially for those over the age of 65. That’s why there are heightened controls around seniors homes, where some of the most vulnerable Manitobans live.
There will always be debate about how far government should go to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Some follow public health rules more diligently than others; that’s human nature. The province levied its first fine this week against an individual in the Prairie Mountain Health region who was not following self-isolation orders. Mostly, people have operated on the honour system, and it’s working relatively well (even if they have to be reminded from time to time to "get back to the basics").
The results of all these interventions have been quite good in Manitoba, notwithstanding the small blip in recent weeks. Those upticks will happen again, and they may get worse; people have to expect that.
Pretending government can eliminate the virus or reduce its spread to near zero until we get a safe, effective vaccine is unrealistic.
While parents and students may feel apprehensive about the reopening of schools, the risk levels are relatively low. Schools are taking reasonable precautions, including the use of masks for most students and staff. Cohorts and social-distancing strategies will be used where possible.
There will be cases of COVID-19 in schools. That’s a given. It can’t be avoided. The question is how parents, students, teachers, school administrators and public health officials respond to it.
If there’s panic and overreaction every time a case is announced, it won’t go well. Not because of the virus itself, but because of how people react.
If the response is measured and plans are followed, schools can remain open and children can get the education they need and deserve.
There will be cases of COVID–19 in schools. That’s a given. It can’t be avoided. The question is how parents, students, teachers, school administrators and public health officials respond to it.
It comes down to managing expectations. If people accept there will be cases in schools and embrace their responsibility to do what they can to mitigate the number, schools can reopen with relatively little pain.
It’s not as if students are going from lockdown or quarantine into schools. Most have been out in the community over the summer, mixing with friends and family. Some have been in daycare.
If everyone takes a deep breath, follows public health orders and keeps the risks of COVID-19 in perspective, Manitobans can get through this school year without too much hardship.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.
Updated on Friday, September 4, 2020 at 9:17 AM CDT: Clarifies number of COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba and number of deaths per capita (per 100,000 people)
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