UPDATE: On Tuesday evening, the Calgary Catholic School District confirmed that there were two additional schools affected, bringing the total to nine.
As many students across Alberta start their second week of school during the COVID-19 pandemic, nine positive cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed at individual schools in Calgary.
Any time one case of COVID-19 is confirmed at a school, the facility is put on “Alert” status, according to the government’s back-to-school guidelines.
According to the Calgary Catholic School District, five schools were in Alert status as of Tuesday, Sept. 8:
- St. Angela Elementary
- Divine Mercy Elementary
- Notre Dame High School
- St. Wilfrid Elementary School
- St. Francis High School
The CCSD said all confirmed cases were in students.
Four schools within the Calgary Board of Education were in Alert status as of Tuesday, with one positive COVID-19 case at each:
- Canyon Meadows School
- Bowness High School
- Lester B. Pearson High School
- Bridlewood School
The school board did not say whether the cases were in students or staff members.
Neither school was considered to have an outbreak as of Tuesday. An outbreak is declared when two or more cases of COVID-19 are confirmed at a school. The outbreak is publicly reported on the AHS outbreak list if it reaches five cases.
The Fort Vermillion School Division had to delay its in-school learning and move to online instruction for two weeks after a staff member tested positive for the virus.
In an emailed statement on Tuesday, press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, Colin Aitchison, said “it’s unfortunately unavoidable that schools experience some cases.”
“We are monitoring the situation across the province closely, however it is too early to jump to any conclusions as there are still many unknowns, including where students contracted COVID-19 and if any transmission occurred,” Aitchison said.
“Alberta Health Services is currently contact-tracing and the proper processes are being followed by the school authorities.”
Aitchison added the government would adjust its school re-entry guidelines if needed.
Calgary bus driver tests positive
A school bus driver with Southland Transportation in Calgary was also confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, according to a statement from the company on Tuesday.
“The driver last worked, while asymptomatic, on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020 and is following protocol from Alberta Health Services,” the company’s regional director Craig Loose said.
“The driver will not return to work until AHS criteria to discontinue home isolation are met.”
Loose said the company determined through an investigation that all PPE, physical distancing and disinfection protocols were followed by the driver and students that were on board.
“As an extra precautionary measure, the facility and bus that this individual utilized have again been disinfected,” he added.
“AHS has indicated through their investigation that no students were identified as close contacts, so there should be no increased risk of COVID-19 from this exposure.”
Principal invites government officials to tour school
In an emotional post on social media Monday, a woman who said she was the principal of Bowness High School said she was “exhausted, devastated, furious, frustrated, scared, anxious, sad, and so many more things all at once” over the positive case at the school.
Jana Macdonald, who said she did not want to do an interview on Tuesday, said the case was brought into the school from an outside source, and that the school followed all of the COVID-19 back-to-school guidelines.
She invited both the premier and education minister to wear a mask and sanitize their hands on the way into the school, as students and staff are required to do.
“I would love to have you sit in a typical classroom and follow a student for the day to understand the impact of your ignorant decisions.”
Aitchison said LaGrange isn’t opposed to visiting schools in the province “if appropriate.”
“But the advice of public health officials and the school divisions has been to avoid unnecessary visitors,” he said. “For example, schools are not currently allowing parents entry to the facilities. Any invitation would be evaluated based on advice from local school divisions and public health officials.”
The CBE said in an emailed statement it was aware of social media posts made by a staff member on the weekend.
“These are challenging times, and we understand the stress, frustration, anxiety and unease many of our staff members may be feeling,” the school board said.
The Opposition NDP said with cases of COVID-19 confirmed in several Alberta schools, class sizes should be capped and physical distancing measures need to be addressed.
“The premier claimed this isn’t about money, and that if we needed additional resources to ensure the safe re-entry of schools, that resources would be made available,” NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said in a media release. “It’s time for him to keep that promise — today.”
Hoffman said it wasn’t too late for the government to take action, adding “this first week has gone badly, but there’s still time to prevent the coming weeks from being worse.”
“The government must immediately provide schools with the resources they need to staff up and spread out,” she wrote.
The NDP would also like to see the government provide daily online reporting of all cases of COVID-19 in Alberta schools.
Cases need to be taken in context
In her COVID-19 provincial update on Tuesday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw addressed the growing concerns around the virus in schools, saying a total of 11 individual schools had confirmed cases.
She said she understood this is frustrating for parents, staff and teachers — especially considering classes have only been back for a few days — but she said it’s important to take the information about cases in context.
In an ordinary back-to-school scenario, roughly 750,000 students and 90,000 staff members would be returning to 2,400 schools in the province, Hinshaw said.
“Since Sept. 1, AHS has reported to us 11 cases that were present at 11 different schools while infectious,” she said.
“This leaves approximately 2,389 schools who have had no disruption.
“None of these 11 cases acquired infection at school. AHS is responding and we are taking each case extremely seriously, but we also need to remember that there are no risk-free options with COVID and that we must support every aspect of our children’s health.”
— With files from Global News’ Caley Ramsay and Lauren PullenView link »