Manitoba health officials look to calm parents before sending kids back to school

By | August 10, 2020

WINNIPEG — Manitoba health officials attempted to assuage fears parents have about sending their kids back to school in a month as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the province.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, was asked about the message he would share with parents who are worried about sending children back to school. Roussin said with the virus still being present, no activity is without risk, but says there is a risk to not sending kids back to school.

He added plans are constantly being reviewed in the province.

“We know with kids, they are less likely to have severe outcomes with the virus, the younger kids are shown to not be significant in the transmission of the virus, plus we have very thought-out and safe plans that we continually reassess to get those kids back to school, and we’re going to continue to assess the progress with that.”

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said he is in conversation with other health ministers across Canada about safely reopening schools, and said there are robust plans for sending children back to school.

“There’s risk in not going back to school, and we’re also hearing those themes from parents and families, who are saying they want a return to normal, they want a return to the classroom because they see a benefit in it,” Friesen said. “Of course, we all want that to be done safely.”

The province’s current plan will see in-class learning resume full-time, five days a week, starting on Sept. 8 for students in kindergarten through to Grade 8, as well as students with special needs in all grades.

For high school students, the goal is to send them back to class full-time, but some remote learning may be required based on the school’s ability to implement the necessary public health measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The federal government has recommended smaller class sizes, grouping students and teachers in cohorts, improve their ventilation systems, and mandatory masks for students over the age of 10.

Roussin said the province is still in discussions on whether to make masks mandatory for students in the fall and adds they will be discussing the federal recommendations in further detail with the Ministry of Education.

Friesen was asked about the province’s plans for substitute teachers, saying the province could put limits on substitute teachers to one area, similar to the restriction put in place for personal care homes. In the early stages of the pandemic, the province limited personal care home workers to one facility to reduce interaction and prevent the virus from spreading.

“Broadly speaking, we’re giving thought to limiting how many people come through those front doors of the school to serve or to be in the school,” he said.

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