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Alberta eases close-contact determination for school staff after COVID-19 exposure

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Rules around which school staff have to isolate after a positive COVID-19 case is confirmed in the classroom have been relaxed by Alberta Health Services.

Previously, anyone who was in a classroom with an infectious case was considered a close contact and required to self-isolate.

READ MORE: Alberta students will not be required to be distanced when seated in class: Dr. Deena Hinshaw

“This was resulting in too many teachers/staff being excluded when they may not have actually had close contact with a student case,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in a statement.

However, Williamson said the changes are not a result of staff shortages. Instead, they’re about bringing rules in line with how close contacts are determined outside the school environment.

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Now, AHS will assess teachers and school staff on a case-by-case basis. The change came into effect last Friday.

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If teachers were never within two metres of their students for more than 15 minutes cumulative, and if they practice good hand hygiene and wore a mask, they may not be considered close contacts of a student case and are not required to self-isolate.

Read more: COVID-19: School board chair says she got no ‘heads up’ from Alberta government about new measures impacting schools

Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling said the changes do not take into consideration the reality of Alberta classrooms.

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“Our teachers interact with our students day in and day out and they don’t necessarily stand at the front of the room and deliver lessons,” he said.

“AHS has not been able to keep up with the contact tracing within schools and within society.

“How are they going to now be able to contact teachers on a case-by-case basis to see if they should be self-isolating or not?”

Students who were in the classroom with the infectious case for more than 15 minutes cumulative are still considered close contacts and required to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of mask use.

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Schilling said that criteria for teachers — to determine if they were a close contact — will be tricky for them to keep track of.

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“When you get to a middle school, junior high, high school, teachers see up to 200 students in the course of the day.

“How are they going to be mindful of the fact: I was 15 minutes with this one child but I was two metres out?

“To be able to determine that in the course of the busy school day will be extremely difficult for teachers to do.”

According to Edmonton Public Schools, the division will continue with the previous process of identifying teachers as close contacts and having them quarantine.

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