WINNIPEG — Manitoba is moving students in all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools to remote learning in Winnipeg and Brandon until May 30 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The move comes into effect Wednesday, May 12.
Education Minister Cliff Cullen and Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, announced the measures at a rare Sunday news conference just two days after the province announced a third lockdown and the closure of non-essential businesses until May 30.
Manitoba recorded 532 new cases of the virus on Sunday, making it the second-highest single day for new cases since November 23 of last year, when 546 cases were announced.
“Keeping schools open and safe for students, staff and families has been at the forefront of our COVID-19 response planning, and our priority has been to have students in classrooms with face-to-face instruction to the greatest extent possible,” said Cullen.
“However, increased transmission of the variants of concern, increased case numbers in larger centres and rising numbers of cases in younger people means we are moving to remote learning in Winnipeg and Brandon to better protect students, families, teachers and staff.”
For schools remaining open in other parts of Manitoba, the following additional measures will be implemented during this period:
• Schools with multiple cases (outside of same household cases) will be moved proactively to remote learning as per existing guidance
• School officials can require students and/or staff who are showing symptoms to stay home for 10 days and encourage them to seek testing. Household members without symptoms should also self-isolate (quarantine) until the sick individual’s test result is received.
• All extra-curricular activities, organized sports and off-site activities are suspended, except for physically-distanced walks/runs in the local community
• No indoor singing and no indoor use of wind instruments will be allowed
• All other public health measures will remain in effect
Child care facilities will remain open, including sites in Winnipeg and Brandon. However, children who are on remote learning at school shouldn’t attend such facilities before or after school hours. All child care facilities will also follow the additional guidance for schools that remain open in communities outside Winnipeg and Brandon.
The province says 20 percent of overall COVID-19 cases are in school-aged children. As of May 6, there were 574 cases linked to schools within the last 14 days.
Dr. Roussin said all Manitobans aged 12+ should be eligible for a Pfizer vaccine by the end of May.
Opposition politicians and advocates have been calling for school closures in light of rising case numbers.
But Roussin said the government didn’t announce the shift to online learning in Winnipeg and Brandon on Friday because the past week’s dramatic increase in cases meant decisions had to be made “in relatively short order.”
“We always want to balance that notice, but also we need to do this in relation to what we’re seeing with the virus,” Roussin said.
“So, this is where we landed, and we’re able to give a couple of days notice.”
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew slammed the government for delaying the announcement until Mother’s Day, saying officials knew Friday, and have known for some time, that community spread has been happening in schools.
“I’m sitting here as a parent listening to the press conference and I’m saying, ‘OK, so I should send my kids to school on Monday and Tuesday, but then on Wednesday I should not send my kids because then it’s too dangerous for them to be in schools,” Kinew told reporters during a news conference at the legislature.
Watch Sunday’s media briefing:
— With files from The Canadian Press