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Is it time to close Manitoba schools?

By: Harry Callaghan
Posted: November 19, 2020 08:40

Provincial Liberals point to new study about schools, kids, and the spread of COVID

Image: Canva

The call to close Manitoba's schools is growing louder.  

In Prairie Mountain Health region, including in Brandon, many schools have recently been reporting possible exposures to COVID-19, and on Wednesday - the Manitoba Liberals pointed to a new study about schools, kids, and how COVID-19 spreads. 

The Liberals are "urging public health officials and the Pallister Government to consider new medical findings in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Lancet that suggest that school openings and children may play a stronger role in the transmission of Covid-19 than previously thought."

They've been "calling for school closures to be considered until there is sufficient contact tracing capacity, along with generous income and business supports, to crush Manitoba’s out-of-control Covid-19 cases while making sure that people and businesses can stay safe and keep paying the bills."

They say "nine states in the U.S. have closed schools in response to spiraling Covid-19 cases."

Manitoba Liberal Health Critic, Dr. Jon Gerard says “(Premier) Brian Pallister is wrong to say no experts have linked schools and Covid-19 transmission, when the Canadian Medical Association Journal says otherwise. There is a growing body of evidence that opening schools is associated with more Covid-19 cases that children can spread Covid and that a school shutdown could help crush the curve. Eight months into a public health crisis, Pallister still thinks he knows better than the experts.”

The Canadian Medical Association Journal(CMAJ) article states, “According to Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, school closures may have played an important role in containing SARS-CoV-2,” and that, “Kids may play a bigger role in the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-DoV-2) that initially suspected.”

The CMAJ’s Editorial on finding, testing, tracing and isolating says “For an aggressive test and trace strategy to be effective, resources must be available to proactively identify and test all close contacts of individuals newly diagnosed with SARS-COV-2 infection, test results must be made available quickly, and the burdens placed on individuals required to self-isolate must be minimized.” The Liberals say in Manitoba, this has not been happening.

The British Medical Journal The Lancet, from October 22, 2020, had a study of 790 phases from 131 countries covering the period from January 1, 2020 to July 20, 2020. It showed that opening schools and lifting a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people increased the viral spread.

“The Pallister PCs did not put federal money into making schools safe, we are running out of substitute teachers, early learning centres are at the breaking point, and we are way behind on testing and contact tracing” said Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St. Boniface. “In the spring, when numbers were lower, schools were closed and there were much better income supports. We can bring numbers down, but we have to reward people for staying home, not just punish them for going out.”

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin says they're not seeing a lot of transmission inside schools - so classrooms will remain open. 

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