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Alberta orders all classes cancelled, daycares closed as COVID-19 cases rise to 56 in the province

Click to play video 'All classes cancelled, new restrictions in place as Alberta sees first potential community-spread COVID-19 cases' All classes cancelled, new restrictions in place as Alberta sees first potential community-spread COVID-19 cases
WATCH: The Alberta government has announced aggressive new steps to curb the spread of COVID-19. Cami Kepke breaks down school cancellations, restrictions and the latest number of cases in Alberta – Mar 15, 2020

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Sunday there were now 56 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the province, with 17 of those confirmed between Saturday and Sunday.

And for the first time, it appears some of the cases came from community spread instead of via travel.

Of the 17 cases, 14 are in Calgary and three are in Edmonton, Kenney said, adding he thinks the province has reached an “inflection point” in the pandemic.

“For at least some of the new cases over the weekend, public health officials have not confirmed a travel history or close contact with a traveller. This indicates community spread,” Kenney said, explaining that investigations are ongoing.

Alberta Health said two people are receiving treatment in hospital and are in stable condition. The other 15 cases are self-isolating at home and expected to make a full recovery.

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Click to play video 'Cases of coronavirus in Alberta have risen to 56, up by 17 in last 24 hours: Premier Kenney' Cases of coronavirus in Alberta have risen to 56, up by 17 in last 24 hours: Premier Kenney
Cases of coronavirus in Alberta have risen to 56, up by 17 in last 24 hours: Premier Kenney – Mar 15, 2020

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said there are “several” concerning elements about the new cases.

“Our investigation determined that seven of these cases stem from a single gathering that took place in Calgary zone,” she said.

“This underlines the fact that gatherings can accelerate spread of the virus. In addition, at least two of the cases within the last two days appear to have been acquired from an unknown source. This means we are likely seeing community transmission in Alberta.

“Community transmission is when a person catches the virus from someone who stayed in the province and not from someone who recently travelled.”

Click to play video 'Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces the ‘immediate cancellation’ of K-12 and post-secondary classes' Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces the ‘immediate cancellation’ of K-12 and post-secondary classes
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces the ‘immediate cancellation’ of K-12 and post-secondary classes – Mar 15, 2020

Cancelling classes

Kenney said in response to the increase in cases, there will be an immediate cancellation of all kindergarten to Grade 12 classes and the closure of licenced child care programs in the province. The province said in-person post-secondary classes are cancelled but campuses will remain open.

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Classes are cancelled until further notice. There is no specific timeline, given the rapidly changing developments, Alberta Health said.

The province had initially planned to keep classes running while asking students to keep their distance from one another. Schools had also been given strict guidelines for how to monitor children, what to look for and when to send them home.

Hinshaw said that based on what she has seen over the last two days, it was time for additional action and it’s not a decision that she made lightly.

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“I recognize that this is extremely disruptive for many families and for those working in these sectors.”

She said school officials were telling her it would be impossible to follow the required steps and keep classes going, so she decided to make the change in spite of the massive impact.

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Alberta educators trying to figure out teaching during COVID-19 – Mar 16, 2020

“We need to put in more restrictions to help slow the virus and protect public health,” she said. “That is why, effective immediately, the emergency management cabinet committee has approved my recommendation that students no longer attend classes in schools or post-secondary institutions until further notice.”

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She added that some approved day homes are an exception, due to the small numbers of children present.

Hinshaw clarified the government is not closing schools, saying that staff should continue to go to school to “plan potential alternatives for students.”

Click to play video 'Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on COVID-19 school closures: ‘We are all in this together’' Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on COVID-19 school closures: ‘We are all in this together’
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on COVID-19 school closures: ‘We are all in this together’ – Mar 15, 2020

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange addressed student progress at the briefing.

“We expect every student to receive a final mark and that students will progress to their next grade level next year,” she said.

“However, provincial assessments such as provincial achievement tests will be cancelled as of this time.

Grade 12 diploma exams needed to get into university will go ahead, LaGrange said, adding details were still being worked out as to how to administer those exams.

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“Diploma exams essential for post-secondary acceptance will continue. We are confident that every student who is eligible to graduate from Grade 12 this year will graduate.”

Edmonton Public School Board superintendent Darrel Robertson said there are a variety of online education delivery options.

“We’re a district that uses Google pretty extensively, so we’re examining whether Google Hangouts might be an option for teachers to communicate with their kids,” Robertson said.

“We also have a platform called SchoolZone, and for any parents they’d be aware that teachers are able to post things like homework and so-on and so-forth in SchoolZone and they have a secure access to that. So w’ere going to, in the coming days, look at a variety of opportunities.”

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Keeping kids busy at home during COVID-19 restrictions – Mar 16, 2020

Funding announcement

Kenney announced a $500 million commitment to the government’s COVID-19 response to ensure “front-line health professionals have the tools they need for testing, surveillance and treatment of patients as the province works to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

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He said the money is in addition to the already-budgeted $20.6 billion for Alberta Health.

The premier called the coronavirus pandemic an “unprecedented public health emergency for Alberta.”

“We are still in the early stages and the number of cases will continue to rise,” Kenney said.

Click to play video 'Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces $500M funding boost to health budget for COVID-19 crisis' Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces $500M funding boost to health budget for COVID-19 crisis
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces $500M funding boost to health budget for COVID-19 crisis – Mar 15, 2020

International travel

Kenney said people returning from abroad must be vigilant and watch for virus symptoms. He said all non-essential travel plans should be cancelled.

“I still hear about people planning to take spring break vacations outside of the country. If they do so, they may have difficulty getting back into Canada because of the cancellation of flights. If they do come back, they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days,” he said.

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READ MORE: Albertans race to find ways back to Canada as travel restrictions grow over the coronavirus

“There is no good reason to be travelling for leisure purposes at this time. I have asked Travel Alberta, in fact, to redirect all of their advertising to informing Canadians who are, for example, snowbirds in overseas locations about the protocols for their return to Alberta to help us manage the COVID-19 response.”

Long-term care facilities, places of worship

Alberta Health said long-term care facilities should be limited to essential visitors only.

Hinshaw added that places of worship would be under the same restrictions as other gatherings effective immediately, meaning that events with more than 250 people present should be cancelled.

“I encourage religious leaders to work with their faith communities to determine how they can continue to support each other, but in ways that reduce the risk of infection spreading,” she said.

Click to play video '‘Now is the time for additional action’: Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announces schools will close' ‘Now is the time for additional action’: Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announces schools will close
‘Now is the time for additional action’: Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announces schools will close – Mar 15, 2020

‘Society-wide’ approach

Hinshaw stressed the importance of taking a “society-wide” approach to stop COVID-19’s spread.

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“We’re making the best decisions we can at each given time and continually evaluating to determine if those recommendations need to be further changed and made more aggressive,” she said.

Kenney reminded people that everyone is responsible for each other’s health.

“Seniors and those with compromised immune systems are the ones with the highest risk,” he said. “So just because you don’t feel at risk yourself doesn’t matter.”

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More restrictions might be rolled out in the coming days, Kenney said.

“We have full confidence in our public health and safety officials, and we’re working together to do everything in our power to contain the outbreak and to keep Albertans safe and healthy,” he said.

“We are equally dedicated to managing the very serious economic consequences of the pandemic and the coincident global crash in energy prices.”

– With files from The Canadian Press