WINNIPEG -- Due to the rising number of cases in both the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region and in Northern Manitoba, new measures are coming to all schools in those regions next week

On Thursday, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, announced these new measures will take effect on Oct. 26 and will last as long as the two regions remain under the orange or restricted level.

Roussin said Manitoba has seen “minimal” COVID-19 transmission in schools, and teachers, staff, and school administrators have been effectively handling measures and COVID-19 cases, which were put in place at the start of the school year.

“We are seeing, though, widespread community transmission, so this increases the amount of cases we see in school, even though they’re not acquired in school,” he said.

Under the new measures, schools need to ensure physical distancing “to the greatest extent possible,” and adjust the space in the classroom as necessary. Excess furniture in classrooms needs to be removed to create additional space. Other areas in the school, such as multi-purpose rooms, shared spaces, and libraries, need to be repurposed to accommodate more distancing.

Roussin said teachers and staff who move across cohorts of students, including substitute teachers, are now required to wear medical masks, and medical-grade disposable masks have been issued to all schools.

“We certainly use medical masks when people are dealing with cases, or in the healthcare setting, or if we’ve determined there to be an increased need for it,” Roussin said. “When we talk about teachers that move throughout cohorts, that jeopardizes, in a way, the integrity of that cohort. The whole idea of a cohort is that if we have a case within that cohort, we do whatever we can so that the transmission is limited to that cohort.

“If you have people who regularly move between cohorts, if that person should ever be a case, then we can have multiple cohorts affected. So wearing medical-grade PPE is one more step involved in further adding integrity to those cohorts.”

The current blended learning model, which sees students attend school both in-class and online on different days, will continue for Grades 9 to 12. Roussin added Kindergarten to Grade 8 students may now be offered a temporary remote learning option while the restricted level remains in effect.

The new restrictions also only permit extracurricular activities if all learning and distancing requirements are met. In the case of sports, distance needs to be maintained when participants are not playing. All field trips are to be postponed or cancelled.

Indoor choirs and the use of wind instruments are both not allowed.

The remaining public health orders for schools are still in effect.