Winnipeg school switches some classes to remote learning as COVID-19 cases grow

WINNIPEG — An elementary and middle school in Winnipeg is switching some of its grades to remote learning after the discovery of several COVID-19 cases.

John Pritchard School reported six new COVID-19 cases Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, in addition to one on Sunday.

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The cases are a mix of students and staff, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, said. He would not provide further details.

While there have been sporadic COVID-19 cases in other Manitoba schools, those involved people catching the novel coronavirus elsewhere. The outbreak at John Pritchard marks the first time transmission has occurred within a school since students returned to class last week.

"Of course, we all would hope there would be no cases (in schools). But that's not realistic in a pandemic," Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Wednesday.

"The more than 450 cases that exist in Canada right now in schools, or have come from schools, is a demonstration that every province is going to have these challenges, and it's about how you respond to those challenges."

About 250 students at John Pritchard — in grades 6, 7 and 8, as well as a split Grade 4 and 5 class — will stay home and learn remotely for an estimated two weeks, parents were informed via email Tuesday night. The province had hoped to have full-time in-class learning for all Manitoba students up to and including Grade 8, and a mixture of remote and in-class learning for high school students.

Officials still haven't determined how the virus got into the school. The individuals did not display symptoms while in the school and went for testing after symptoms developed, Roussin said. Students were seated one metre apart and were wearing masks, he added.

The Opposition New Democrats said the Progressive Conservative government could better prevent the spread of COVID-19 by instituting smaller class sizes that would let all students spread out to two metres. They have also called on the government to look at setting up new classrooms, even if it means renting space off of school grounds.

"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 our families safe," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Health officials reported 23 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 20 of which were in Winnipeg. There were 283 active cases and 16 deaths have been linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 16, 2020.

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