The measures being recommended for Manitoba students to safely return this fall
A custodian cleans a teacher's desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government has announced more details on what back to school will look like for kids in September.
Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen is recommending students in Grades 5 to 12, along with school staff and others in schools, wear masks.
Younger students can also wear masks if they choose to or if their caregivers want them to.
Health officials said masks should not be worn by people who are unable to remove them without assistance or those who have breathing difficulties.
It will also be required for students in Grades 5 and up, as well as bus drivers, to wear masks on the bus.
The province said masks will be supplied to school divisions for both students and staff, along with other PPE. Extra masks will be available for those who don't have their own.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, was asked why masks aren't being made mandatory.
"This has been the approach in Manitoba. We have made public health recommendations, Manitobans have largely stepped up and followed them. So at this point, we are strongly recommending it, and like in the past, we expect Manitobans to follow our recommendations," said Roussin.
He added mandating masks isn't off the table but that isn’t the case at this time.
When the province first announced its back to school plan, the government said it would cost around $48 million.
Goertzen didn't provide an update on the cost, noting the province will be working with each school division on what they need.
"They won't all be the same in every school division. But there was sort of a common request from the different school divisions when it comes to masks and providing of masks. They wanted to ensure there was equity there, and an availability," said Goertzen.
He added providing masks will cost into the millions.
MAKING SCHOOLS SAFE
Along with the announcement regarding masks, the province has several steps that will be in place to ensure the safety of staff and students.
Physical distancing is to be practiced in all parts of the school. If it is not possible, cohorts are being recommended to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
Additional handwashing and sanitizing stations will be placed in schools and extra attention will be provided to younger students to make sure they follow the safety procedures, including washing their hands.
Parents will be reminded that students must stay home when they are sick or showing symptoms of a cold, flu, or COVID-19.
Increased cleaning will be done throughout schools on a daily basis.
If there is a case of COVID-19 at a school, Public Health will provide instructions if students need to self-isolate, be tested, and when they can return to school.
NDP’S CALLS FOR EDUCATION
In a news conference on Thursday, NDP Leader Wab Kinew called on the province to make masks mandatory in school and to decrease class sizes.
Kinew pointed out that the Public Health Agency has recommended the use of masks in schools for children 10 and up.
“I think it’s time that Manitoba adopt this guidance,” he said.
“It certainly would put a lot of parents and teachers at ease to know there are these additional health measures being taken to protect your kid in the classroom.”
Kinew added the NDP has also been focused on the idea of smaller class sizes, citing recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada and Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
“Reducing the amount of children in a classroom is one of the best measures that you can take to ensure social distancing and to reduce possible community spread at schools,” he said.
Kinew recognized that both of these measures will require investment by the province.
“We know that it will take tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to keep kids safe and that’s what we’ll be looking for the government to do as we go back to school,” he said.
Kinew said he’s price tagged everything the NDP has outlined at $260 million.
LIBERALS JOIN CALLS FOR MORE ACTION
Following the province's announcement, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province needs to be doing more when it comes to students returning to school.
'At this point it's not much of a plan," said Lamont. "It looks a lot like school was in February, plus masks and hand sanitizer, and we haven't seen many details beyond that."
He said he feels that there are three areas that need to be addressed: flexibility, funding and First Nations.
"We don't know where we are going to be in three weeks – we could have more cases, we could have zero cases, so I do think pushing back opening needs to be on the table," he said, adding if a school division needs more time to get ready, then they should be allowed that time.
He also called on the government to coordinate more with First Nations about their return to school, and tap into federal funding to help support the cost of added infrastructure that will be required when dealing with COVID-19 in schools.
The plan can be read below: