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COVID-19: Manitoba schools getting ready to test unvaccinated staff as mandate deadline nears

Click to play video: 'Teachers near deadline to get second shot or get tested' Teachers near deadline to get second shot or get tested
Get the shot - or get tested. That's what Manitoba's public health orders will require frontline workers to do starting next week. As Marney Blunt reports, many school divisions are already doing just that – Oct 14, 2021

With the deadline nearing for front-line public employees in Manitoba to be double-vaccinated — or face regular testing — Manitoba school divisions are scrambling to find out which staff members have gotten their shots and get systems ready to regularly test those who’ve chosen not to get the jab.

The province’s soft mandate requiring front-line workers who have direct and ongoing or prolonged contact with vulnerable Manitobans — including those working in schools, health care, child care, or justice sectors — kicks in Oct. 31.

Read more: COVID-19 — Manitoba schools getting ready to test non-vaccinated staff as mandate deadline nears

But because of the two-week immunization period, affected employees will need to get their second shot by Monday, or instead provide proof of a negative test within 48 hours before a shift.

That means full-time teachers and other school staff who are not fully vaccinated will face testing three times a week.

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Some divisions, like Winnipeg’s Seven Oaks School Division, have already started testing.

“There’s a small number of our employees that have opted for testing,” said Brian O’Leary, superintendent at Seven Oaks, where roughly 98 per cent of staff has been fully vaccinated.

“I think people have been living with this and want to get back to a more normal life — and certainly more normal life in schools — and their action to get vaccinated really contributes to that.”

Read more: COVID-19 — Manitoba brings back mask mandate, requires vaccination for some government employees

O’Leary says the division has required proof of vaccination — the vaccine card or the QR code — to determine who is and isn’t vaccinated.

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He said of a staff of roughly 1,500, there are around 40 or 50 who are on track to be fully vaccinated by the deadline, and roughly 35 who have opted not to get the shots.

Those 35 employees will be given three rapid antigen tests a week, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. If a positive result is found, they’ll be required to be tested at a provincial testing site.

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He said two of the weekly rapid tests will be done at home on “the honour system” and one will be supervised with a nurse each week.

The province is providing the division with the tests, but O’Leary says the division is covering the costs of the nurse, who will be both administering weekly tests and providing an orientation for unvaccinated staff on how to properly do the tests at home.

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Global News reached out to school divisions across the province this week, looking to find out how many staff members are fully vaccinated, and what was planned for those without the shots.

Read more: Faculty association urges University of Winnipeg to mandate vaccinations

Several divisions got back and reported vaccine uptake in staff at their schools near or over 90 per cent.

Like Seven Oaks, Pembina Trails School Division says roughly 98 per cent of staff are fully vaccinated, leaving about 40 of 1,900 employees opting instead for testing.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg School Division said while last-minute vaccination confirmations are still coming in, they expect to be testing roughly 10 per cent of its full-time staff next week.

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The Louis Riel School Division says 96.5 per cent of staff members are fully vaccinated.

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Outside of Winnipeg, the Hanover School Division — located in southern Manitoba where vaccine uptake has been lower than other parts of the province — says 88 per cent of staff are fully inoculated.

A division spokesperson says testing will start Monday and will follow a similar regime as Seven Oaks, with two at-home tests and one supervised test at the division office every week.

Read more: Manitoba doctors call for COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all health care workers

Another southern Manitoba division, the Red River Valley School Division, tells Global News 89 per cent of staff have gotten both shots of vaccine.

Across the province, 86.1 per cent of eligible Manitobans have received one shot of vaccine and 82.4 have received two doses.

But those numbers have been lower in parts of southern Manitoba, like the RM of Stanley, where uptake is less than 25 per cent, and Winkler.

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The relatively high vaccination numbers reported among school division staff was encouraging news for Winnipeg parent Tim Webster, whose teenage son learned remotely last school year to help protect his immunocompromised mother.

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“Of all the things that the government’s done to work towards vaccination and protecting us during the pandemic, I think that was a really good step,” Webster said of mandating vaccinations for teachers and school staff.

Read more: Unvaccinated Winnipeg Transit workers a concern for union

“My impression is that children going back to school really drove our second wave.

“If we can avoid or mitigate the severity of the fourth wave by protecting those kids through the teachers, fantastic.”

–with files from Lauren McNabb and Marney Blunt

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, visit our coronavirus page.

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