K-12 students back to in-person learning
James helps his young son, Sebastian, get prepared to go back to in-school learning. “I want my son to be mentally and physically ready for the change after the long holiday break,” said James. Manitoba’s K-12 students and teachers return to in-person learning on January 17.
Manitoba’s K-12 students and teachers return to in-person learning on Monday, January 17. This time, however, schools will no longer provide close contact notification and notification letters on individual cases but will provide reports of absenteeism through their regular notification channels to their school community.
Schools will monitor staff and student absenteeism rates and self-reported COVID-19 cases. In addition, public health will continue to report confirmed cases through the online dashboard and monitor confirmed cases in schools for evidence of increased transmission above levels expected in the community. When there is increased COVID-19 activity based on absenteeism, case counts or operational concerns, public health will investigate and provide recommendations to school officials.
In situations where public health determines increased transmission may be occurring in a school, they may recommend the implementation of a period of rapid antigen testing or other preventive measures in school, such as reducing higher-risk activities. Where transmission continues to increase or where COVID-19 cases are affecting school operations, a seven-day period of remote learning for the class, cohort or school may be recommended by public health.
Students and staff who are exposed at school can continue to attend as long as they are asymptomatic. Household close contacts who are exempt from isolation but have a case in their household are encouraged to use rapid tests to monitor for asymptomatic transmission, as household contact remains the highest risk setting for transmission.
“The omicron variant isn’t going to go away, and we need to learn to live with the virus... Public health officials will also continue to monitor cases in schools and work with schools to track absenteeism rates for staff and students. This will help us target measures like rapid antigen testing programs and remote learning to specific schools as needed, rather than all having measures apply to all schools in a region,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer.
Students or staff who test positive on a PCR test or rapid antigen test, or suspect they have COVID-19, are required to follow public health isolation protocols, and are strongly encouraged to notify the school. School staff and students should attend a test site if they have signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
“The benefits of in-person learning can’t be understated, from mental and physical health to socialization and supports for families...we know that students learn best in the classroom, and those benefits cannot be understated,” said Education Minister Cliff Cullen. “Schools have done a tremendous amount of work and have measures in place to help reduce the spread of the virus and protect our children. Schools will continue to work with public health to help mitigate the risk of the virus and keep children where they need to be – in the classroom.”
Schools have been moved to the Restricted (Orange) level on the Pandemic Response System to ensure enhanced cleaning measures are in place, medical masks that meet Health Canada performance requirements for the staff, ensuring two metres of physical distancing to the greatest extent possible.
Omicron is highly contagious
Manitoba’s deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said in a recent press conference that with the appearance of the Omicron variant with a shorter incubation period, the coronavirus has become much more infectious, making it more difficult to contain. As such, instead of focusing on individual cases, public health officials will work to manage risk at the community level. “COVID-19 is no longer an emerging illness..It is here to stay, and our ability to contain the virus is limited. It is highly likely that everyone will be exposed to the virus in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Atwal
For more information on COVID-19 and measures in place to address the spread of the virus in schools, visit www.gov.mb.ca/covid19/schools/index.html.