October 25, 2020

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'Nobody knew what to do'

Manitoba's first in-school COVID outbreak leaves questions, worries in wake

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Breanne Gylywoychuk found herself with more questions than answers, after receiving an email Tuesday night saying her son would not be able to attend school in person the next day.

Connor, 11, was one of some 250 students affected by the recent COVID-19 outbreak at John Pritchard School. With seven cases currently being attributed to one cohort of staff and students, students in a Grade 4/5 split class, grades 6, 7 and 8, as well as the before- and after-school program have been forced to study remotely for two weeks. Manitoba's pandemic response system has declared the Winnipeg school a "restricted" code orange — the first school in the province to receive the designation.

Connor, with his mother Breanne, was sent home from school as a precaution.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Connor, with his mother Breanne, was sent home from school as a precaution.

"They can only give you so much information, and it was stressful," Gylywoychuk said Thursday.

Her family received the email just before 9 p.m. Tuesday. About 20 minutes later, her son’s teacher called to check in and ensure they had read it.

Gylywoychuk, a stay-at-home mom, said she was lucky to have been able to get her ducks in a row so quickly, but knew of families where both parents who work were forced to rush. However, she found herself unsure what to do with her other children — a "frustration" caused by unclear messaging from the province.

"My biggest concern was what all of it meant for my other three kids, because through all of this, there hasn’t been a lot of conversation about if this happens, what do you do with the other siblings," she said. "Do I send them to school? So that was more immediately where my head went."

Ultimately, Gylywoychuk decided to keep all four home Wednesday, and went through Health Links for answers. After she was told her other three children can attend school, they went back to class Thursday.

"My biggest concern was what all of it meant for my other three kids, because through all of this, there hasn’t been a lot of conversation about if this happens, what do you do with the other siblings. Do I send them to school? So that was more immediately where my head went." – Breanne Gylywoychuk

"It feels like a lot of the messages they’re conveying are based on if you have one kid in one school, but a lot of the parents I talk to, we have multiple kids in multiple schools and nobody knew what to do," she said.

"We were all messaging each other, ‘Are your sending your kids? Are you not? What do we do?’ and nobody knew what to do."

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin had little to add about the outbreak during a media briefing Thursday, confirming all seven cases at John Pritchard School have been connected to one cohort in one classroom. He said health professionals were still investigating the index case and degree of spread in the cohort.

"It’s always nice to be able to link cases together, it leaves less uncertainty… so more to come on that as our investigation continues," he said.

Breanne Gylywoychuk said the transition to online learning was easier for Connor the second time around, thanks to teachers.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Breanne Gylywoychuk said the transition to online learning was easier for Connor the second time around, thanks to teachers.

Regardless of the confusion and short notice, Gylywoychuk said the transition to online learning was easier the second time around, thanks to teachers who had sent along scheduling. A sense of fear, however, still remained — some focused on the fact her child has been affected by the first in-school outbreak in the province, but much of the difficulty coming from the uncertainty of dealing with a pandemic as a parent.

"You’re just trying to do what you think is best, whether that’s homeschooling or sending them to school, so that’s been difficult. I’ve been constantly second-guessing myself… I really wish remote learning was an option from the beginning (of the 2020-21 school year)," she said.

"Because it kind of felt like either you’re totally in charge of your child’s education or you have to risk their health."

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: malakabas_

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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