Alberta has seen its first case of COVID-19 that was believed to be contracted in a school setting, health officials confirmed on Friday.
“This is not unexpected and not a cause for alarm. However, I know that many are anxious about school safety and I felt it was important to share this information with you and to talk about what it means,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw said the case was contracted at Waverley School in Edmonton.
“To date, AHS has identified two cases that were infectious while in the school, one of whom seems to have been the source for the other,” she said.
“While it is always difficult to say with 100 per cent certainty where transmission happens, given the facts in this situation, it seems to be a likely explanation.”
Hinshaw said anyone who is considered a close contact to those infected either has been or will be contacted by AHS. She also said it’s possible to see more indications of transmission related to these two cases.
Hinshaw said it’s crucial that members of the public, and media, not point fingers at this school simply because it’s the first site to have spread in its population, citing the already heightened anxieties and worries many in the school community are dealing with.
“Parents with a child in that school need to know this school has done nothing wrong,” she said. “The school should not be targeted with accusations of being unsafe.”
Hinshaw also stressed that anyone confirmed to have COVID-19 should not be shamed or stigmatized in the public.
“These students, staff and all their close contacts should be treated with support and understanding,” she said.
Hinshaw said there was nothing to suggest Waverley School will have to transition to a different learning model as a result of these cases.
“Identifying in-school transmission potential quickly and taking action is crucial to limiting the spread and keeping schools safe,” Hinshaw said, adding that officials are doing everything they can to speed up test turnaround times so parents of children with symptoms can get results as soon as possible.
She also asked for patience on behalf of Alberta parents as they work toward better understanding who is considered a close contact in school settings.
“We’re working very hard to look at all of the cases we’ve had over the past couple of weeks to determine where we are seeing that potential for transmission risk to be able to target close contacts more precisely and not require a whole classroom to stay home,” Hinshaw said.
When asked about whether Alberta will move to accept the mouth-rinse test that B.C. recently announced for children, Hinshaw said it is something officials are looking into
However, Hinshaw said adopting a new testing model would require a lot of ground work including ensuring Alberta has the proper means of collecting those tests, that the labs can process them, and that the hardware is valid and will provide accurate results.
The Edmonton Public School Board said it was notified on Thursday of the in-school transmission, as part of the contact-tracing process.
A total of seven staff and 12 students were isolating in relation to the outbreak as of Friday, and the class where the cases were confirmed had moved to online learning. The school was also deep cleaned.
In an emailed statement on Friday afternoon, Opposition NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said she was “deeply concerned” with the news of in-school spread of the virus.
“My heart goes out to the students, staff, families and community of Waverley School,” she said.
“It is not too late for this government to prevent additional cases of transmission within schools. I urge Minister LaGrange to cap class sizes at 15, provide additional space and staffing, and act on the other recommendations we provided her in July in our Safe Schools, Successful Students report.”
As of Friday, 14 schools in the province had outbreaks of COVID-19, meaning they had two or more cases in their school community. One school, St. Wilfred Elementary School in Calgary, was on the watch list, meaning it had five or more cases of the virus.
A total of 57 of more than 2,000 schools in the province have reported having a case of COVID-19 in their population, and a total of 78 people have been at a school while infectious, Hinshaw said.
The majority of Alberta’s students have been back at school for a couple of weeks under the province’s re-entry Scenario 1; near-normal daily operations with additional health measures. Those additional health measures include increased hand sanitization, students in Grades 4 to 12 wearing face masks, and at some schools, staggered start, end and break times.
Friday cases of COVID-19
Alberta reported 107 more cases of COVID-19 from a total of 11,313 tests completed.
One additional person died as a result of the coronavirus, a woman in her 50s in the North zone, bringing Alberta’s pandemic death toll to 255.
The province has a total of 1,424 active cases of COVID-19. Of those active cases, 711 are in the Edmonton zone, 450 in the Calgary zone, 24 in the Central zone, 38 in the South zone and 197 in the North zone. Four active cases have not been linked to any particular zone.
Forty-four Albertans were being treated in hospital as of Friday, with seven in intensive care.
A total of 16,381 Albertans have fallen ill with COVID-19, 14,702 of whom have recovered.
Alberta laboratories have completed 1,180,696 coronavirus tests on 909,443 people.View link »