COVID-19 cases on the rise in southern Manitoba schools during 4th wave

There have been 181 COVID-19 cases among school-age students and school staff since the start of the school year in Manitoba. The Steinbach-area Hanover School Division is the division with the highest number of cases, with more than 40 as of Friday.

Hanover School District still has the highest of school related COVID-19 cases in Manitoba

A masked student arrives by school bus on Sept. 8, the first day of school in Ancaster, Ont., in this file photo. As of Friday, Manitoba has seen 181 COVID-19 cases among school-age students and school staff since the new school year began. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Manitoba has seen a total of 181 COVID-19 cases among school-age students and school staff since the new school year began on Sept. 7.

As of Friday, those 181 cases — 155 students and 26 staff — were spread among 83 different schools which had seen at least one case, according to the province's online dashboard.

That dashboard is updated twice weekly, and Friday's update shows a jump of almost 50 COVID cases involving students and staff from three days earlier. The number of schools with cases climbed by 20 in that time.

The province notes on its website that a case in a school does not mean that COVID-19 was acquired or transmitted at the school, and says not all cases associated with a school require a notification letter to be sent home to parents.

The province also recently changed its definition of what constitutes an outbreak in a school, and now says an outbreak must involve at least three cases in the same school cohort within 14 days of each other, whether among students or staff.

The schools with the most cases so far are Mitchell Elementary School — just west of Steinbach — which had 14 cases as of Friday, and Christian Heritage School in Brandon, also reporting 14, according to a map on the province's website.

Those were followed by 11 cases at Kleefeld School, also near Steinbach, eight at Steinbach Regional Secondary and seven at Springs Christian Academy in Winnipeg. 

The Steinbach-area Hanover School Division — which has roughly 8,500 students and 1,100 staff — is the division with the highest number of cases, with more than 40 as of Friday.

Hanover interim superintendent Shelley Amos says beyond following health orders and guidance from Manitoba Education, the division is taking extra measures to help stem the spread.

"Medical masks are required of staff who cross cohorts," Amos said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

"Additional cleaning and disinfection procedures are in place for schools, including the use of sanitization sprayers in high-risk areas."

The division also has a designated divisional case co-ordinator who is in daily contact with public health officials reviewing cases and assessing risk, Amos said.

Schools in remote learning

While the province announced Friday it will be moving from the yellow, or "caution" level on its pandemic response system to the "restricted," or orange level, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer says schools will not be affected. 

"Schools will continue to remain at the yellow level so we can ensure we keep as many kids in school as possible," Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday.

"Public health continues to work very closely with education. We're still recommending a school-by-school approach [to further restrictions] when the risk is justified."

While the province's dashboard says no schools have moved to remote learning, at least two schools in Manitoba did so this week.

Mathias Colomb Cree Nation said Thursday its school was closing for two weeks, starting Friday.

As of last week, there were seven active cases in the northern community, who had 17 or more close contacts.

The move comes more than six months after COVID-19 hammered the community, prompting Mathias Colomb to bring in members of the Canadian Armed Forces and Red Cross to care for the ill.

And Austin Elementary School in Austin, about 45 kilometres west of Portage la Prairie, also elected to move to virtual learning on Wednesday, after a single case was detected, the division's superintendent said.

The province said in a written statement that those schools aren't listed as being in remote learning because only schools where an outbreak has been declared are posted online — and the schools don't meet the current definition.

"Public health has not declared an outbreak at Austin Elementary School or Mathias Colomb Cree Nation," the statement said, adding that "First Nation communities have not requested that their schools be included in provincial online data related to outbreaks or clusters.

"This has been the case since the start of the pandemic."