Public health and education officials are announcing revised close contact identification and management protocols in schools to address the impact of remote learning and self-isolation on the safety and mental and physical health of students. The changes were implemented on Sept. 21.
In the school setting, public health officials will consider vaccination status and consistent medical or non-medical mask use when assessing risk and determining isolation requirements for close contacts.
To align with public health measures, self-isolation requirements for close contacts are also reduced to 10 days from 14 days and testing is recommended at day seven. Where there is higher community transmission or outbreaks, the isolation requirements may change to reflect increased risk.
This approach supports keeping students in school to the greatest extent possible while implementing measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission in schools.
The definition of a school case is also changing to align with established incubation and communicability periods for COVID-19. Moving forward, a case in school is considered to be a staff, student or volunteer affiliated with a kindergarten to Grade 12 school in Manitoba, who was present in the school:
- during the 14 days prior to symptom onset, or positive test date if asymptomatic; or
- within 10 days after illness onset, or positive test date if asymptomatic.
Officials continue to note that a school case does not mean the case was acquired or transmitted at a school. However, this classification allows public health to monitor overall cases that may be associated with a school.
Public health is also modifying the definition of a school outbreak. Going forward, an outbreak will include at least three school-associated cases identified within 14 days of each other in students, teachers or staff within a specified cohort. The cases will have to be assessed as potentially acquired in school, and linked to a known case in the school setting or a school-sanctioned extracurricular activity. The new definition will allow more consistent reporting of outbreaks. Declaration of an outbreak allows further preventive measures to be put in place to reduce the risk of ongoing transmission.
Officials also noted the Toolkit for Notification of Cases in Schools has been updated for the 2021-22 school year based on the above public health guidelines and recommendations. The changes to the toolkit include revisions to the step-by-step notification process, definitions of cases, close contacts and isolation requirements, and updated FAQs, forms and letter or email templates.
This year, school leaders will continue to collect information about a case, preventative measures in place at the school and close contacts to support schools in intervening as quickly as possible to mitigate risk of COVID-19 transmission and expedite processes once public health contacts the school.
Public health officials will continue to support schools by reaching out to families to continue case investigations beyond the school, advising on notification letters and directing shifts to remote learning.
To learn more about the toolkit, visit edu.gov.mb.ca.