Manitoba

About 250 students sent home after more COVID-19 cases linked to John Pritchard School

Roughly 250 students have been sent home from John Pritchard School in Winnipeg's North Kildonan neighbourhood, as the number of COVID-19 cases linked to the school climbed to seven, Manitoba's education minister said on Wednesday.

Cases mark 1st outbreak at Manitoba school during pandemic

The cases at John Pritchard School, most of which are linked to a single cohort, mark the first outbreak at a Manitoba school. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Roughly 250 students have been sent home from John Pritchard School as the number of COVID-19 cases linked to it climbed to seven, Manitoba's education minister said on Wednesday.

Students at the North Kildonan school in grades 6, 7 and 8, as well as those in a split grade 4/5 class and the Henderson Early Learning Centre (the school's before and after program), started remote learning on Wednesday, Kelvin Goertzen said at a news conference.

"Of course, we knew that there would be cases within the school system, and we wanted to ensure that there could be quick response when those cases arose," Goertzen said.

Those students may continue learning from home for up to two weeks, the Winnipeg school said in a letter to parents on Tuesday.

A provincial spokesperson said the 250 estimate Goertzen gave is based on the number of students in grades 6 to 8 at the school, and not an exact figure.

With multiple infections within the same cohort, the cases appears to mark the first instance of transmission happening within a school, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at the news conference.

"Our investigation is still pending, but I think when you see that many cases within a cohort, that would be our default that we would start with," he said. "We have to act as if there was transmission within that cohort."

The cases at John Pritchard, most of which Roussin said are linked to that single cohort, mark the first outbreak at a Manitoba school.

The people at the school diagnosed with COVID-19 had no symptoms while at school and got tested after symptoms developed, he said.

WATCH | Spread of COVID-19 within John Pritchard School likely, Roussin says:

With more COVID-19 cases identified at John Pritchard School, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says it’s probable the illness was spread within the school, though it’s still too early to know for sure. 0:27

Roussin said students and staff at the school are involved, though would not reveal how many of each have been infected.

Schools in the River East Transcona School Division are prepared for what to do when their students or staff contract COVID-19, superintendent Kelly Barkman said in a video statement on Wednesday afternoon.

Masks, physical distancing, sanitizing stations, cohorts and electrostatic fogging machines are all part of the division's plan to reduce the risk for students and keep schools open during the pandemic, Barkman said.

"This is not a time to panic. This is a time to follow experts' advice," he said. "We need to work together, support one another and remember to be kind."

School challenges

All but one case at the school has been linked to a single cohort, Roussin said. That person was "somewhat connected" to several other cohorts at John Pritchard, he said, which is why more than one group has been sent home.

Roussin said it's still too early to say whether the first case identified at that school was the index case that infected the others.

Roughly 250 students have been sent home from John Pritchard School as the number of COVID-19 cases linked to it climbed to seven, Manitoba's education minister said on Wednesday. 2:47

"Like anything in this pandemic, we're going to review, we're going to learn if needed, and apply what we learn," Roussin said.

There are now 11 cases of COVID-19 in schools across Manitoba and roughly 450 across Canada, Goertzen said.

"Clearly, this is something that every province, every school division and virtually every school is dealing with in some way or the other," he said.

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said the province should have announced new resources for schools in Manitoba on Wednesday instead of focusing on talking about other provinces.

"We need to see the real investment in concrete terms, dollars on the table, so that Manitobans know that their provincial government is taking real action to keep kids apart in classrooms and to keep all of our families safe," he said.

Parents of students at John Pritchard getting only a few hours' notice that their kids wouldn't be allowed at school on Wednesday highlights the importance of making sure people have paid sick leave during the pandemic, Kinew said.

He called on the province to introduce its own temporary sick leave program, since a federal one won't be announced while Parliament is prorogued until Sept. 23.

Students headed back to class for the first time in six months last Tuesday. Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said parents needing to keep their kids home from school when they're sick highlights the importance of making sure people have paid sick leave during the pandemic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Goertzen said the province is looking into how to address concerns about students not heeding public health advice while at school, though he's still not sure the problem among students is worse than in the general population.

"I can assure you that shackling is not being considered. But clearly, you know, there are challenges when you're dealing with young people," he said.

Goertzen said there is no perfect remote-learning plan, and that cases in schools across the country show every province is having its own challenges as students return to class.

"The response to those challenges is what we're really honed in on right now," he said.

There have now been six schools in Manitoba with COVID-19 exposures, including John Pritchard School. The first case was announced just one day after classes resumed, when a potential exposure was reported at Churchill High School.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Sept. 16, 2020:

Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Wednesday, September 16, 2020. 38:39

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