A parent whose child had to isolate for 10 days after a COVID-19 test then learned, this past weekend, a case was announced in their child’s school cohort.
The case is from two weeks ago — an entire incubation period.
"Manitoba Public Health officials advised Betty Gibson School on November 13, 2020, of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the grade 3/4 class on November 4th, November 5th, and November 6th when they may have been infectious," according to the letter signed by Dr. Marc Casavant, superintendent of the Brandon School Division.
That letter is dated Nov. 15.
A second letter, also dated Nov. 15, advises of a "confirmed case of COVID-19 on one of the buses that serve the school on November 4th, November 5th, and November 6th when the case may have been infectious."
Dr. Linda Ross, the chair of the BSD’s board of trustees, said she believes the two letters refer to the same case.
"You’d have to ask public heath why it takes 10 days," she said.
"We were advised by public health on Nov. 13, and then we acted on that accordingly. I know that they’re swamped. I know that they need more people, they need more help with contact tracing and all of that. I’m not making excuses for them, but I feel bad for them. I know that they’re working in a very, very difficult situation."
However, Ross did say it’s concerning that so much time elapsed.
Both letters state, in bold: The infection was not believed to be acquired at school.
That being said, what are parents to do?
"I’m not in a position really to give advice," Ross said.
"All I can say is what they have been told to do in the letter that came from the school, and also the information that public health provided. People have been advised, if they feel the need, to contact public health, and they will give them directions on self-isolating and so on, and they may or may not recommend testing depending on exposure."
When asked about the long lag in reporting time, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said he could not speak to the specific incident.
"There’s no doubt our goal is that people who are symptomatic and going for tests are going to self-isolate, pending results. If we do find a positive case, that was infectious during school, we’re going to notify the cohort. The fastest we can do that the better. We are working on ways to do that."
Roussin added that, for the most part, contact tracing has dramatically increased in capacity.
"We do hear of these type of scenarios, and they could be outliers. I’ve mentioned there could be other explanations, too, for a delay," he said.
"If there was a delay in testing. If a person was still staying at home and waited quite a bit of time before they were tested, then we searched back to when their symptoms started, and then that was where we’ll do the contact tracing."
He did emphasize public health is trying to identify cases quickly, and isolate them, as well as inform contacts.
Another reporter asked how the government’s decision to keep schools open can be justified.
"We look at the importance. We keep the critical things open, and just how important it is to keep the kids in schools … So much benefit to families, to children, their education, their development," Roussin said.
"We haven’t seen a lot of transmission within the schools. We’ve seen a lot of cases. And so it’s been tested, for sure. We see a lot of cases identified within schools. But, despite that, we’re not seeing a lot of transmission. Now, in saying that, we’re always looking forward to seeing whether we have to make any changes to it. So nothing’s ever been off the table. We’re going to keep everyone safe. That’s the reason why we haven’t made that move at this point."
Nevertheless, Ross is concerned.
"Not just in these circumstances. But I know that the health-care facilities and health-care services are swamped. And as a result of that, there is this delay between when test results are confirmed and when the information gets delivered. That’s a concern. It’s not just a concern to the school board. It’s a public health concern that that much time goes by."
Ross also said that it’s the province that calls the shots regarding whether schools remain open or whether they close.
"Those are not local decisions," she said.
"We take our lead from public health and Manitoba Education."
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.