Manitoba is changing the way its schools conduct contact tracing as students are set to head back to classes Monday, while the Omicron variant continues its spread.
Provincial officials said Thursday afternoon that schools will no longer notify close contacts on individual cases, but will provide staff and student absenteeism reports through regular channels.
Public health will investigate and give recommendations if a school’s COVID-19 activity is seen to indicate transmission above expected community levels.
“As public health officials study the Omicron variant and continue to learn more about it, they advise we need to change how we respond to COVID-19 both in the community and in schools,” said Manitoba education minister Cliff Cullen.
“The changes public health has recommended to case and contact management in schools will ensure continued monitoring of the risk in individual schools as we learn to live with the virus.”
The province said recommendations — in cases where increased transmission is occurring — could include implementing a period of rapid antigen testing or other preventative measures, even goes as far as recommending a week of remote learning if needed.
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“The Omicron variant isn’t going to go away and we need to learn to live with the virus. This means adjusting our mindset from trying to contain the virus to trying to mitigate our risk,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer.
“Public health officials will also continue to monitor cases in schools and work with schools to track absenteeism rates for staff and students. This will help us target measures like rapid antigen testing programs and remote learning to specific schools as needed, rather than all having measures apply to all schools in a region.”
Students and staff who are potentially exposed at school will be allowed to continue attending in-person classes, provided they’re asymptomatic. Those who test positive on a PCR test or rapid antigen test, or suspect they have COVID-19, are encouraged to notify the school, and to follow provincial isolation requirements.
“The benefits of in-person learning can’t be understated, from mental and physical health to socialization and supports for families,” said Cullen.
“Schools have done a tremendous amount of work and have measures in place to help reduce the spread of the virus and protect our children. Schools will continue to work with public health to help mitigate the risk of the virus and keep children where they need to be – in the classroom.”