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School COVID cases will be reported once again

Oct. 5 announcement changes definition of outbreak at schools
20211007 JK presser_PROV_WEB
Premier Jason Kenney provided an update, from Calgary Oct. 7, 2021, on COVID-19 and the ongoing work to protect public health including increasing fines for people breaking mandates and harassing businesses and staff.

ATHABASCA — As COVID-19 numbers remain high and the provincial government attempts to, once again, control the spread, a change in reporting policy regarding schools last week resulted in one local school, considered to be in the middle of an outbreak one day, taken off the list the very next day. 

Aspen View Public Schools (AVPS) issued a media release Oct. 4 saying an outbreak due to a "respiratory illness" had been declared at Grassland School based on 10 per cent absenteeism, but that status was removed following the announcement from the provincial government Oct. 5 changing the guidelines of when an outbreak is declared. 

“As we have said all along, as the pandemic evolves, we will make adjustments when necessary to keep students and staff safe,” said Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange at the Oct. 5 press conference. “The actions we are taking right now will help students to continue learning safely in person as we combat this fourth wave. Keeping students, parents and school communities safe remains our top priority.” 

At the start of the new school year, Alberta Health Services (AHS) stated there would no longer be contact tracing and encouraged students and staff to remain home if feeling sick, but there was no obligation to inform the school division if it was COVID-19. 

“By returning to reporting infectious cases to schools like we did last year, we are providing schools the tools and information they need. I encourage everyone to do their part: get vaccinated ... and follow all public health measures to protect those around you,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health at the same press conference. 

There are two levels to alerts — Level 1 is two to four cases and Level 2 is five to nine cases. If the number is 10 or more, the school is placed on outbreak status and all schools, starting with Level 1, will be listed on the Government of Alberta website as of Oct. 6. 

Public health officials will determine the risk level and work with the school. Any cases reported within 28 days of the initial two will be included in the investigation and the alert status will be removed once there are no new confirmed cases for 14 days. 

Starting Oct. 12 parents will once again be notified if their child or children may have been exposed if it was linked to someone associated with the school.

Outbreak status is declared when there are 10 or more confirmed cases, and the virus was acquired or transmitted at school. The outbreak will be considered over 28 days after the last reported case. 

The 10 per cent absenteeism rate is nothing new to schools, AVPS Supt. Neil O’Shea said at the regular board of trustees meeting Oct. 7. 

“The 10 per cent absenteeism, it has been a longstanding practice if you had 10 per cent of the students in your school absent with similar symptoms. So, if everybody in Grade 1, 2 or 3 has a tummy ache after it was chilly the day before, maybe there was something going wrong and Alberta Health Services wants to come and investigate,” O’Shea said.  

“They were using that model around respiratory illnesses, saying if you had 10 per cent of your student population away from school for a respiratory illness, they wanted to report it to Alberta Health Services and they would conduct an investigation.” 

As of Oct. 10, there are 34 active cases in Athabasca County, 105 in the County of Barrhead, and 54 in Westlock County and for schools, Level 1 has been declared for Edwin Parr Composite in Athabasca, Barrhead Composite School, Covenant Canadian Reformed School in Neerlandia, and R.F. Staples School in Westlock. Barrhead Elementary School is on outbreak status with 10 or more confirmed cases. 

Unvaccinated Albertans are legally required to isolate for 10 days if they test positive or have any COVID-19-like symptoms not related to a pre-existing illness or condition, for example a chronic stuffy nose due to allergies. 

Premier Jason Kenney also announced Oct. 7 fines under the Public Health Act are doubling to $4,000 and now also include penalties for harassing employees and businesses trying to implement government orders. 

“The bottom line is this: vaccines are essential to avoid a collapse in our health-care system, and even more preventable deaths, and we’re doing everything we can to get as many Albertans vaccinated as possible,” he said. 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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