Manitoba public health officials say two new cases of COVID-19 are connected with John Pritchard School on Henderson Highway, bringing the total to seven at the elementary school.
The province confirmed the additional cases at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Tuesday night, the River East Transcona School Division sent out a memo to parents with children at the elementary and middle school, informing them that four students had tested positive. Last week, another asymptomatic student was confirmed as having attended the school for several days while positive.
As a result, all students in Grades 6 through Grade 8, a split Grade 4-5, and the before- and after-school program are switching to remote learning for 14 days, a period that can be "lengthened or shortened" as a public health investigation continues.
"Teachers will be in contact with their students today to initiate remote learning materials and plans and will be in communication with those families throughout the day," a spokeswoman for the division said in an email to the Free Press. The scenario is one the division had been planning for since March, she said.
The positive cases were sufficient to warrant most of the school turning to remote learning just a week after classes resumed.
Wednesday morning, a little girl with a pink backpack and a grey face mask was the first student to arrive at John Pritchard.
She walked onto the blacktop at 8:26 a.m., and stood there, surrounded by spread-out staff members, waiting for her classmates to arrive before the bell rang at 8:35.
Other classes, from kindergarten up to the affected grades, are slated to continue learning in the classroom.
"It’s normally a lot busier here for dropoff, I’ll just say that much," one parent, who asked not to be identified, told the Free Press at about 8:30.
Since classes resumed, there have already been cases of COVID-19 confirmed at several schools in Winnipeg, including Churchill High School, Beaverlodge Elementary and St. Aidan’s Christian, however, John Pritchard is the first where precautions such as remote learning have been implemented in response.
In Selkirk, at an announcement related to the funding of a new emergency medical services building, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said that cases in schools were not unexpected, and that the government understood that.
"Certainly we don’t want to downplay whenever there are cases — it’s always serious — but this is why we plan," he said. "I would say we should not be alarmed to see students sent home out of an abundance of caution; instead we should be encouraged to know that the system is working."
At John Pritchard, which has a current enrolment of 387 students, the system was put into effect rapidly Wednesday morning, and the students who did arrive will continue to learn in the classroom. On the blacktop, they stood and waited to get inside, while some parents waited on the boulevard or in their vehicles.
"Dropoffs are always a little hard," said the mother of a Grade 1 student who didn’t want to let go of her hand.
"I just hope that he has a good day," she said. "Everybody’s doing their best, as well as you can ask. I just couldn't believe this happened so quickly."
A dad in a black pickup truck pulled up just past 8:30 to drop off his two daughters, who eagerly hopped out of the backseat.
"Bye Dad, I love you," one said.
He sat and watched them walk toward the school staff. "I gotta go to work now," he said. "I’m feeling nervous, I won’t lie, but I’m prepared to pick them up on a moment’s notice."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.