Province withdraws contact tracing in schools



MIKAELA MACKENZIE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Education Minister Cliff Cullen

Four days before in-person learning resumes in Manitoba, the province announced K-12 schools will no longer provide close contact notifications and letters to parents about individual cases of COVID-19.

Instead, schools will provide absenteeism reports through their regular reporting channels.

The announcement was made during a Thursday afternoon press conference with provincial chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, who said the highly infectious variant of omicron makes the current method of provincial contact tracing less effective than it used to be.

Roussin conceded that this sudden shift from COVID prevention to mitigation will come as a shock to some parents, as notification letters about coronavirus exposures have been a regular part of their children’s schooling since the pandemic emerged.

“It can feel like everything we’ve done over the past two years has been in vain, and that’s unsettling and unnerving for some,” he said.

“But again, the virus has changed drastically, so we need to drastically change our approach.”

Although close contact notifications are no longer in place as of Monday, Roussin said staff and students should still monitor for symptoms and adhere to COVID isolation protocols if they test positive.

In situations where public health officials determine that increased transmission may be occurring in a specific school, they may recommend the implementation of a rapid antigen testing period or other preventative measures.

When the province records an increase in COVID activity due to absenteeism, caseloads, or operational issues, Public Health will investigate and provide recommendations to school officials on how to proceed.

The province could even go so far as to establish a seven-day remote learning period for a specific class, cohorts or schools if the rapid spread of COVID impacts day-to-day operations.

Roussin also noted that public health will continue to report confirmed cases and outbreaks through the province’s online dashboard.

“With wide community transmission, we certainly expect to see cases in schools,” Roussin said. “We have to expect that. We have to manage our risk, not eliminate it.”

Education Minister Cliff Cullen was also on hand for Thursday’s announcement and listed a variety of other safety measures Manitoba schools will implement to keep staff and students safe on Monday.

“We have provided our school divisions with guidance on ventilation, how to protect their students from COVID-19, including the use of masks, enhanced cleaning measures, updated physical distancing requirements and increased efforts to reduce congestion in schools through operational plans,” he said.

Thursday’s press release that accompanied the announcement listed some of the specific investments the current Progressive Conservative government has already earmarked for Manitoba schools, including 500,000 rapid tests, $6 million for medical face masks and $6.8 million dollars for improved ventilation.

However, Manitoba Liberal Party Leader Dougald Lamont pushed back against Cullen’s claims that the PC government is being proactive on this front, writing on Twitter that the minister’s funding numbers aren’t making it to the classroom.

“There aren’t enough tests for families, masks for teachers or better ventilation in schools because PCs couldn’t bother to make the investments despite a year and a half of begging from teachers, parents and students,” Lamont wrote after Thursday’s announcement.

The province’s update on contact tracing in schools came a day after Premier Heather Stefanson told the public they must “learn to live with this virus” and expect all Manitobans will be exposed to the omicron variant in the coming weeks.

The province also halted most of its primary contact tracing for the general population on December 20, 2021, deciding to focus efforts on administering vaccines instead.

While the Superintendent of the Brandon School Division. Mathew Gustafson didn’t have much to say about Thursday’s contact tracing update, he told The Sun that his administration will send a letter to parents today explaining what local learning will look like in nobody next week.

“We will provide all the information we have to parents,” Gustafson said. “Because we believe that with this information they can feel comfortable with the measures that are in place to protect their children.”

BSD officials also announced on Wednesday that they are considering creating a K-8 distance learning option for parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their children back to class in the shade. of omicron.

If the division decides to go ahead with this option due to high demand, interested parties will receive a response by Jan. 19.

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