Nearly two dozen Winnipeg families are now at home isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak swept through a St. Vital school.
It took less than two weeks for 22 people to become infected after the first positive case connected to Ecole Marie-Anne Gaboury was identified on April 15.
“It was like all these people popping up. Positive case, positive case, positive case,” said Sarah Carroll, whose two children attend the school.
By the following week, Carroll and her family had gotten the dreaded call that her nine-year-old son had been identified as a close contact.
Less than 24 hours later, he started showing symptoms.
“Thomas woke up and he had a fever and I just knew in my gut right away,” she said.
“It was scary and I’m immunocompromised. So the gears are just turning like, oh my gosh, what are we going to do?”
The family has been home isolating and following all public health requirements, said Carroll. Right now, only Thomas has tested positive.
The Louis Riel School Division made the decision to move the school to remote learning on April 23.
“It was a combination of a concern that we were seeing the virus continue to spread but it was also the fact that you had a lot of kids and staff self-isolating that were close contacts,” said LRSD superintendent Christian Michalik.
When the decision to move to remote learning was made that Friday, 26 per cent of students at the school had been identified as close contacts. Another 18 per cent of students didn’t attend school on the Friday, the division said.
“You had parents making decisions to keep kids home so you had almost half the school absent on Friday,” Michalik said.
The situation became exacerbated by the number of staff members who were also sick or isolating, which left the school unable to fill 20 staffing absences.
“Schools are places where kids are safe, staff are safe and as soon as we have evidence that that’s not going to be able to be assured, we have to make the decisions like the one we made on Friday.”
Public Health officials officially declared an outbreak at the school Tuesday.
On average there are nearly 11 close contacts for each case in Manitoba, the most recent provincial data shows.
“It’s the trickle effect that the virus has. It’s the isolating and loss of income,” Carroll said.
Carroll said contact tracers confirmed their case was contracted at school.
“We don’t engage in play outside of the house. If we do, it’s outside. We keep our bubble very, very small and we’ve always followed the orders,” she said.
The mom of two said she is also frustrated with messaging from provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, who has repeatedly said there is no evidence of transmission happening within schools, instead blaming sleepovers and playdates.
“They continued their dialogue, saying that they’re seeing no evidence of transmission in schools and that this was a direct correlation of people violating house orders,” she said.
“And I’m sitting here without income for several weeks, my husband and I, and it just felt like such a slap in the face to be told that’s why we’re in this position when we’ve done nothing but follow the orders.”
Over the past two weeks alone there have been at least 364 COVID-19 cases within schools.
It’s resulted in 2,865 Manitobans being identified as close contacts and needing to isolate, a provincial spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.
“We are seeing more people testing positive for the virus across the school division and we are monitoring that all very carefully,” Michalik said.
Both Carroll and Michalik commended the school and its staff for how careful and vigilant they’ve been at keeping kids safe.
“The school has done a great job. I can generally say that from the bottom of my heart. They went above and beyond those measures,” Carroll said.
Even though her son thrives more with in-person learning, Carroll said she’d like to see schools go back to remote learning full-time before the virus hits more schools and teachers.
“We’re finding ourselves in a different position this time where they’re not going to be able to offer remote learning because teachers aren’t going to have the capacity to do so,” she said.
Michalik said the board is continually monitoring the situation at all the schools in the division and if they need to pull the trigger again, they will. But for now, he wants parents and staff to know they are making every effort to keep people safe.
“I don’t want anyone to feel guilty in any way that they haven’t done all that they can,” Michalik said. “It’s a virus. This is the reality that despite all our best efforts to mitigate risks it doesn’t take much to find ourselves in this situation.”
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