WINNIPEG — Provincial government ministers and health officials held a town hall Tuesday night to talk with Manitobans about questions or concerns about the draft of Phase Two of reopening and the COVID-19 pandemic in the province.
Cameron Friesen, Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living, Kelvin Goertzen, Minister of Education, and Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, all answered questions from Manitobans.
One woman asked why there is a rush to get teachers and some students back to school and if efforts should be more focused on the mental health of students and teachers as well as preparing for the next school year.
The Phase Two draft says students will be able to meet with teachers for the purpose of assessment and planning for the resumption of classes in September.
Goertzen said there are students who need extra help.
“We do know that there are many students who need to be connected back into school for assessment to see what has happened over the last several weeks to prepare them and their parents for summer to do some work to prepare for the fall,” Goertzen said.
He added that he has heard from teachers that they want to spend time with students to help them with transitioning into the next school year.
Another Manitoban asked why it isn’t mandatory for students to wear masks in school to protect teachers who may have pre-existing conditions.
“It is not a recommendation at this point, but if there are parents or teachers who are looking to do that, I would certainly suggest that teachers in particular speak to their employer, which is the school division,” he said.
Goertzen added that while it isn’t being recommended, the government is working with all school divisions to make sure sanitation is up to par and that health measures are in place.
One woman asked Dr. Roussin why it isn’t mandatory for people to wear masks in public.
Roussin said he recommends people wear a mask if they can’t maintain physical distancing but that it won’t be made mandatory because there is evidence that says they wouldn’t work.
“The jury’s still out on just how much protection they provide,” said Roussin. “But we have studies, even healthcare workers, wearing medical masks who are trained to put them on properly, trained to wear them properly, trained to take them off properly, with relatively high levels of failure.”
Roussin said, in the end, it is much more effective for people to stay home when they are sick, to practice social distancing, and to wash their hands.
CHURCHES AND RELIGIOUS FACILITIES
Opening churches and other religious facilities was also brought up during the town hall. One woman asked why they can’t be opened on a capacity-level compared to a drive-in.
Friesen said that right now, events can be held inside churches and religious facilities as long as it meets the capacity level of 25 people indoors and physical distancing measures are met.
“However, I’m going to give you the answer you really want to hear. I don’t think we’re far away from finding a solution that will restore the ability for churches, mosques, synagogues, and other religious groups to have indoor services based on occupancy levels,” said Friesen.
He added that these changes could come into effect before Phase Three.
Roussin reminded people that this is not a return to normal and that Manitobans must still follow health measures but he added that so far, Manitobans have done their part to help flatten the curve of COVID-19.
“We’ve seen that Phase One has been a success and it’s set us up now for Phase Two, and so I want to thank all the employees, managers, business owners, Manitobans in general, just for the strong and dedicated efforts to make this happen,” said Roussin.
He added that he thinks the province can be successful in Phase Two and, if that is the case, Phase Three will come in the near future.
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