Province confirms 6 more COVID-19 cases at Winnipeg school

John Pritchard School is pictured. (Source: River East Transcona School Division.)

A Winnipeg school has moved to a restricted level, and about 250 students have been sent home for temporary remote learning after six new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed to be in the school.

On Wednesday, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, announced six new cases were identified at the John Pritchard School in Winnipeg's North Kildonan area, bringing the total number of cases in the school to seven.

Roussin said these new cases include some students and staff, but would not specifically identify any of the cases.

The province said the following cohorts have been transitioned to remote learning as of Wednesday:

  • Grade 4/5 split;
  • Grades 6, 7 and 8; and
  • Henderson Early Learning Centre (before-and-after school program).

The province said all other grades and cohorts remain at the school for in-class learning. Roussin said the cohorts sent home have been asked to self-isolate. According to Manitoba's education minister, about 250 students at John Pritchard School are currently remote learning, though that number may go up.

Roussin said these cases are believed to have been contracted within the school, though public health investigations are ongoing. He said none of the cases were symptomatic while at the school, but all went for testing after developing symptoms.

"We have a single cohort that was mostly involved. There was a single individual outside of that cohort that we're unable to link to that cohort – so it sure could be unrelated, but that is why there is more than one cohort involved in the self-isolation," he said

Roussin said public health investigations are ongoing, but was not able to say how COVID-19 was introduced into the cohorts.

Parents received a letter on Tuesday informing them that the groups would be sent home for remote learning. The letter goes on to say that remote learning arrangements for the aforementioned groups will continue for 14 days and that this length of time may be shortened or lengthened as required.

"I know the school is doing their best to protect the kids, and we're doing our best at home, so that's all you can ask," said one parent at the school.

"I couldn't believe it had happened so quickly. I kind of thought it would take longer before we would get one of those letters sent home."

Roussin said the school has been moved to the orange restricted level in the province's pandemic response system due to the number of cases and contacts involved, meaning there is now a two-metre physical distancing requirement in the school.

He said parents were notified and additional cleaning of the high-touch areas was completed.

"Public health investigations will continue to determine the transmission chains of this virus," he said. "Any close contacts or connections to the cases have been identified and contacted and advised to self-isolate for 14 days."

Roussin said others who were at the school do not need to self-isolate, but should monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

"This is clearly a recognition that there were going to be cases in schools. Of course we all would hope there would be no cases, but that is not realistic in a pandemic," said Manitoba's Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen on Wednesday.

Goertzen said there have been 11 cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba schools as of Wednesday.

In a pre-recorded statement, Kelly Barkman, the superintendant and CEO of the River East Transcona School Division said the school division has planned for situations like this. He said the schools are taking extra health measures and said they remain a safe place for students.

"One of the few things more important in a young person's life than education is their health and safety," he said. "The virus is here for the foreseeable future, and we need to find a way to live with it."

He said whether it is in the classroom or through remote options, learning must continue.

"We are doing everything we can to keep our schools open and our students learning," he said.

Manitoba Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said he was very concerned to hear of the cases at John Pritchard School, and applauded Goertzen and Roussin for making themselves available to answer questions.

He said the new cases in schools highlight the need for a paid-sick leave program.

"Essentially we know that parents are going to be asked in situations like this one to keep their kids home, to help do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19," Kinew said.

"But too many parents are not going to have the strong health care plan that grants them that paid sick leave programs, so the province needs to act, at least in this interim period before the federal government can put in place their plan."

Kinew said when it comes to the classrooms, he believes class sizes need to be reduced and said he would have liked to see the province put more resources towards school to allow for smaller class sizes. 

- With files from CTV's Tim Salzen and Bobbi-Jo Stanley