WINNIPEG — When students return to the classroom on September 8, mask use will be part of the ‘new normal.’
Guidelines released by the province on Thursday strongly recommends that students in Grades 5 to 12 wear non-medical masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The guidelines state the use of masks in common areas and where social distancing of two metres is not possible. The recommendation also extends to school staff and others in schools, while students in K-4 can also wear non-medical masks if they or their caregivers choose so.
Students in Grade 5 and up, as well as bus drivers, will be required to wear masks on school buses. Parents are being encouraged to drive their children to school, as much as possible.
“The safety and health of students and staff, and their families, are the priority as Manitoba returns to in-class learning,” said Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen.
“These protocols, in accordance with Public Health advice, will be implemented by all school divisions as part of the Manitoba government’s detailed guidance.”
Goertzen added the province will provide masks to school divisions for distribution to students and staff, as well as other personal protective equipment. Additional masks will be made available at all schools throughout the school year for those who do not have their own.
When physical distancing isn’t possible, students will have to be organized into cohorts of no more than 75, and minimize contact with others. In these cases, there must be at least one metre between their desks.
Lunch and recess are to be staggered to minimize congestion, and in many cases, teachers will change classrooms instead of students.
The Opposition New Democrats have called for mandatory masks in schools. NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the Progressive Conservative government should also hire more teachers so there can be smaller class sizes.
Parents are also being asked to screen their children for COVID-19 symptoms every morning and keep them home if they aren’t feeling well.
COVID-19 in schools
If a case of COVID-19 is identified at a school, Manitoba Health will work with school administrators to identify close contacts, notify them and advise them to self-isolate. The areas of a school where exposures took place will be cleaned and disinfected, and these areas will not be used until it is determined safe to do so. School communities will be notified when a student at their school is a confirmed case, once close contacts have been identified.
The province says closing a school will be the last resort and only with evidence of transmission among multiple groups of students or staff.
School divisions will post their individual plans during the week of August 17 for the return to schools and the plans will be linked to the Manitoba Education website.
— With files from The Canadian Press