School-aged kids in Manitoba will be able to return to their child care programs this summer despite concerns over the spread of COVID-19 variants.
Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires said Friday child care centres will be allowed to open starting next month.
“Because of the efforts we have all made to reduce the spread of COVID-19, public health has advised that begin July 1, school-aged children will be able to return to their child-care programming,” she said.
“This includes full-time child care for July and August.”
Additionally, Squires said summer day camps for children aged 11 and under will also be allowed to operate starting next month.
The announcement came just hours after a group of Manitoba doctors warned the provincial government to back off its plan to reopen the economy July 1– and maybe even nix plans to reopen schools in September — until COVID-19 numbers drop much further.
In a letter to the Progressive Conservative government, a group of 11 physicians say the province is not taking into account the Delta variant, one of the variants first identified in India which has shown to be highly transmissible.
The government is proposing to raise capacity limits in stores and at public gatherings — and has hinted it might reopen some establishments that have been closed — by July 1 if a number of targets are met, some of which are vague.
The easing will depend partly on a continuing but unspecified drop of new daily infections, hospital admissions and the test-positivity rate. Vaccination targets, which are more firm, must also be met. Seventy per cent of Manitobans aged 12 and up must receive their first dose and 25 per cent must receive their second.
The doctors are calling for strong public health measures in addition to increased vaccinations over the next few months, and warn that unvaccinated children, who are expected to be going back to in-person schooling this fall, could bear the brunt of the dangerous new strain.
Schools in Winnipeg and Brandon were moved to remote learning due to rising COVID-19 case numbers in mid-May. Further schools in rural parts of the province were later also closed, ultimately leaving an estimated 13,198 school-aged child-care spaces empty.
Manitoba reported 189 new COVID-19 cases and four additional deaths connected to the virus Friday.
The provincial five-day test positivity rate stood at 8.3 per cent, several percentage points below last month’s high point.
Since the first variant case was confirmed in Manitoba in February, the province has recorded 14,394 infections linked to the more contagious strains. Of those 1,501 variant cases were listed as active as of Friday.
While most dominant variant in Manitoba continues to be the Alpha strain, first identified in the United Kingdom, the province’s Delta case counts continue to climb.
As of Friday, the province has recorded 154 cases of the Delta strain, according to a provincial site tracking variants. In their statement to government, the doctors warned the variant is expected to become the dominant strain of the virus in Manitoba within weeks.
But Manitoba’s daily case numbers have fallen significantly from a peak of 603 cases reported as stricter restrictions and school closures were announced last month.
“Due to the efforts of Manitobans and our vaccine rollout, COVID-19 cases are decreasing, which allows us to open these important services again,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy chief provincial public health officer in a government release.
“Parents have had to navigate this pandemic while juggling caring for their children and I applaud them for their efforts during this challenging time.”
Atwal said there will be no changes to cohort sizes for licensed child-care facilities, but day camps will be limited to cohorts of 20.
As for the province’s next phase of reopening, Atwal said the plan will be finalized next week, and will likely see only minor changes to current restrictions.
“I’m sure we’ll have subtle changes. I don’t know if we’ll have profound changes,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said.
“There’s lots of information to review … to come to those decisions.”
The Delta variant will be factored into next week’s announcement, Atwal added.
Since March 2020, Manitoba has reported 55,098 lab-confirmed cases and 1,115 deaths connected to the virus.
–With files from Sam Thompson and The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
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