Winnipeg, Brandon schools ordered to move online Wednesday

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WINNIPEG — Schools in Winnipeg and Brandon, Man., are being ordered to move classes online starting Wednesday and continuing until May 30 as Manitoba battles a worsening third wave of COVID-19.

Education Minister Cliff Cullen and chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced the move in Winnipeg on Sunday, along with new public health measures that impact schools elsewhere in the province.

Cullen said while the government has prioritized keeping schools open during the pandemic, the move was prompted by increasing COVID-19 spread that’s infecting more young people and sending more patients to intensive care units.

"This remote learning period will last until May 30 to help protect our students and staff during this period of elevated case counts," Cullen said.

"This will also reduce the strain on our health-care system and give our vaccination campaign an even better ability to combat COVID transmission in the community."

Students with special needs and children of essential workers will be accommodated during the remote learning period, Cullen said.

Roussin said the move to remote learning is important to address rising community spread and related transmission in schools.

"Moving these schools to remote learning will help address some of that community transmission," Roussin said.

"We have to act now to break these transmission chains."

Roussin also announced new measures to take effect across the province during the same period, including moving schools with multiple cases outside the same household to remote learning, and cancelling extracurricular activities.

Cullen said the dismissal measure, which will be triggered when a school has two or more cases, will affect about 34 schools outside Brandon and Winnipeg this week.

School officials can also require students or staff with symptoms to stay home for 10 days and advise them to seek testing.

New restrictions on businesses, religious services and organized sports and other services also took effect in Manitoba on Sunday in a bid to curb the spread.

When those restrictions were announced Friday, Roussin said schools would remain open, although he warned that could change soon.

Opposition politicians and advocates have been calling for school closures in light of rising case numbers.

But Roussin said the government didn't announce the shift to online learning in Winnipeg and Brandon on Friday because the past week's dramatic increase in cases meant decisions had to be made "in relatively short order."

"We always want to balance that notice, but also we need to do this in relation to what we're seeing with the virus," Roussin said.

"So, this is where we landed, and we're able to give a couple of days notice."

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew slammed the government for delaying the announcement until Mother's Day, saying officials knew Friday, and have known for some time, that community spread has been happening in schools.

"I'm sitting here as a parent listening to the press conference and I'm saying, 'OK, so I should send my kids to school on Monday and Tuesday, but then on Wednesday I should not send my kids because then it's too dangerous for them to be in schools," Kinew told reporters during a news conference at the legislature.

Manitoba again reported new daily COVID-19 cases over the 500 mark on Sunday, with officials saying there were 532 new cases.

There were also three additional deaths, which the province said were all linked to the variant of concern first identified in the United Kingdom.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2021.

The Canadian Press