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As more Alberta schools report single COVID-19 cases, province launches map tracking school outbreaks

WATCH ABOVE: Some videos from Dr. Deena Hinshaw's news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

While no school in the province had yet met the criteria for an entry at the time of her news conference, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Wednesday that an online map has been launched allowing parents and students to see which schools have had two or more COVID-19 cases where there was a risk of transmission in that setting.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw told reporters at a news conference in Edmonton that the province always needs to balance its commitment to transparency with patients’ confidentiality rights.

For now, Hinshaw said Alberta will stick with its online map threshold of schools with two or more COVID-19 cases, within a 14-day period, where the person was infectious at the facility.

She added that the threshold for what schools will be included on the map was established to avoid bombarding parents with information that is not helpful to them, making it harder to identify where true coronavirus transmission risks are present.

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“Other examples are not relevant,” Hinshaw explained, referring to cases where — for instance — a student with COVID-19 may never have been present at a school setting while at risk of transmitting the disease.

“[Irrelevant information] can cause confusion and anxiety.”

On Monday evening, Alberta Health Services confirmed to Global News that “two or more cases of COVID-19 attended Henry Wise Wood High School, in Calgary, while infectious.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What schools in Alberta have COVID-19 outbreaks 

The school did not yet appear on the new online map. A spokesperson for Alberta Health confirmed to Global News that the school would appear on the map the next time it is updated.

In its email to Global News, AHS said it “is already working directly with the school to limit risk of spread.”

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“This includes assessing the classroom(s) setting and identifying and assessing the close contacts of the case. Any individual considered exposed to this case will be contacted directly by Alberta Health Services, per standard contact tracing procedures,” AHS said.

Later in the evening, AHS confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak had also been declared at Chinook High School in Lethbridge. In that outbreak, AHS said there were also “two or more cases of COVID-19 [that] attended Chinook High School, in Lethbridge, while infectious.”

READ MORE: Alberta Health Services says COVID-19 outbreak declared at Lethbridge’s Chinook High School 

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Hinshaw said her team has “always committed to complete transparency to all those connected to a school when a case is identified.”

“That is why mandatory notification is in place for all school cases,” she added.

Hinshaw said she understands that there has been confusion when schools send out alerts regarding a COVID-19 case and the province does not. She said that to date, schools have often been “erring on the side of caution” and sometimes sending such alerts before health officials can determine if the case posed a risk of transmission at a school.

READ MORE: Positive COVID-19 cases confirmed at 9 Calgary schools 

As of Wednesday afternoon, Hinshaw said the province has confirmed 16 cases at 16 schools in Alberta where the person with COVID-19 was infectious at a school setting. She said it was important to note that all of those cases were the result of community transmission and that none were the result of transmission within a school setting.

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“I know there is interest in adding all single [COVID-19] cases,” Hinshaw said, noting that as the pandemic situation in the province continues to evolve, so too will the province’s response.

Hinshaw said she is aware that there is a heightened sense of concern among Alberta parents and students as schools have only just reopened, and that as a result, she is committed to holding a news conference every day this week to attempt to alleviate those anxieties.

READ MORE: Kenney shuts down idea of more COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta 

Alberta records 98 new COVID-19 cases

On Wednesday, Hinshaw announced that COVID-19 has claimed another life in Alberta. Alberta Health said the person who died was a woman in her 70s from the Edmonton zone and that the fatality was not linked to a continuing care facility.

“My sympathies go out to all who have lost loved ones recently,” Hinshaw said.

She said Alberta has also recorded 98 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of active cases in the province to 1,585.

Read more: Alberta COVID-19 cases rise to May levels; Hinshaw says ‘absolutely critical’ to stay home if sick

Forty-five cases involve people being hospitalized; seven of those are in intensive care units.

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Of the province’s active cases, the Calgary zone (655) and the Edmonton zone (613) currently have the majority of them.

Hinshaw said 10,500 coronavirus tests were administered in Alberta over the past 24 hours, and told reporters that the province continues to work on reducing delays regarding test analyses and results, though she said she was unable to provide details on when the situation would improve on that front.

“Right now, there is a delay and that delay is concerning,” she said. “The delay time between when a sample is taken and a patient is notified is something that we are working very hard to shrink to make sure that people do get their test results in a more timely way. There are many different pieces of that process.

“There has been a lot of work to make sure that the availability of people to take samples, where that’s in an AHS assessment centre or for those who have no symptoms and no exposure through a pharmacy, so that has been something that has been increased over the last several months.”

Read more: New COVID-19 testing centre opens at Edmonton Expo Centre

Hinshaw added that “there’s been quite a lot of work done on processes within the lab and how different pieces of work get done as a sample is processed — the data from the sample is entered into the lab system and then the actual lab testing that happens.”

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“Alberta Health Services is, I know, working to ensure they have enough staff to be able to do all the different parts of that process in the lab,” she said. “There’s also been a lot of work done to make sure that the process once the lab result is available, that staffing and measures to make sure that people get their results in a timely way and that contact tracing happens as quickly as possible — there’s also been quite a lot of work to hire additional staff for that piece of it as well.

“So Alberta Health Services has been working and continues to work on all of those pieces to do the best that we can to ensure that people get results quickly.”

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