High school student in The Pas contracts 1st variant case in northern Manitoba

The first case of a coronavirus variant in northern Manitoba has been discovered in a high school student in The Pas.

'It's a huge concern … I don't want to see it go any further anywhere else in the north'

The student who contracted the variant attended one class on Monday with four other kids and one teacher. All are now isolating. (CBC)

The first case of a coronavirus variant in northern Manitoba has been discovered in a high school student in The Pas.

"All I can tell you is we had a student who has contracted COVID and upon being contacted about the case we were told that there was concerns it might be a variant of concern," said Kathi McConnell-Hore, principal at Margaret Barbour Collegiate, a Grade 9-12 school in the town about 520 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

No information about which grade the student is in has been provided due to privacy rules.

The school learned late Monday there was a confirmed case of COVID-19, but it wasn't until Tuesday that McConnell-Hore was advised it was the B117 variant of concern.

The case was also announced on Tuesday as part of the regular COVID briefing by the province's health officials.

They said it was a confirmed variant in the north but not specifically where in that region.

"I'm going through that today to ensure that the proper steps are in place to contact all the community, all of our parents within our community with regards to what's going on," said McConnell-Hore.

McConnell-Hore has been following the province's tool kit that guides education professionals on how to keep schools as safe as possible, and the steps to follow for notifying people when a case is discovered.

"All of my staff have been told and reminded to just keep doing what we're doing, following everything that we do now," McConnell-Hore said.

"My superintendent is asking questions as well to see if there's anything more we can do because of the potential now of a variant of concern."

Virus contracted during Easter break?

As far as McConnell-Hore is aware, the student contracted the virus outside of the school, which has about 420 students and 50 staff members.

"It sounds like it's sort of attached with Easter," she said.

The student attended one class on Monday with four other kids and one teacher. All are now isolating.

It just so happened there were other things happening at the school so the class was smaller than usual, McConnell-Hore said.

"It's a very good thing — a very, very good thing," she said.

"We've been really lucky that we haven't had many cases [of COVID-19]. But at the same time, any time you have one you're constantly looking and checking to make sure that it can't get worse, and that you're doing everything you can to keep everybody else healthy and safe." 

The last case at the school was discovered in the first week of December. There have now been eight, including the first variant.

Elsewhere, a COVID-19 outbreak at Boissevain School has climbed to 13 cases since being announced last week, though no variant cases have been detected there as of Wednesday.

Variant cases have also been identified that are associated with several schools in Winnipeg, according to the province's online dashboard.

That includes Sisler High School — three of five cases associated with that school in the last two weeks were variants. All four recent cases associated with nearby Robertson School were the more contagious strains.

Variant cases make up just over 15 per cent — 21 of 133 — of the COVID-19 infections identified in Manitoba schools in the two weeks prior to April 13, according to the schools dashboard.

That's a similar proportion to the cases detected in Manitoba at large. The province's latest epidemiological surveillance report shows the proportion of variant cases identified has hovered around 15 per cent for about three weeks — from March 14 to April 3.

There have been 560 cases of the highly contagious variants of concern in Manitoba with the dominant strain — 490 cases — being the B117 originally detected in the U.K. A total of 20 others have been identified as the the B1351 variant first detected in South Africa. 

Fifty other cases remain unspecified.

Now that a variant of concern has been detected in the north, McConnell-Hore says she is worried for that part of the province.

"It's a huge concern, which is one of the reasons why, as soon as I heard that, I wanted to know if there's anything else we need to do to keep things healthy and safe'" she said. "I don't want to see it go any further anywhere else in the north."