Alberta will start offering COVID-19 vaccines to those working in the province’s schools and licensed childcare centres starting Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said Monday.
The expansion of the province’s immunization campaign will see appointments open up for teachers, support staff, child-care workers in the school system and others, like administrators and bus drivers.
Childcare workers in licensed facilities offering services like daycare, out-of-school care, pre-school and dayhomes, can also book their shots starting Tuesday.
Kenney said the government estimates more than 60 per cent of those working in schools will have already been given a first dose based on their age eligibility or because they had a pre-existing health condition.
“This has been a very long, difficult couple of years for teachers and kids,” Kenney said.
“Our next generation is likely going to be the most tech-savvy and are used to learning online much more so than previous generations. But the glue that has kept learning going and our kids focused has been our teachers.”
The premier commended teachers on their innovation in helping students learn remotely when in-class instruction hasn’t been possible, as well as the other unofficial roles they’ve taken on as the pandemic wore on through nearly two school years.
Bookings will be made based on the honour system, meaning no proof of employment is needed for those booking appointments, Kenney said. The bookings can be made through the online portal, through a participating pharmacy or by calling 811.
“By vaccinating teachers and staff, we’ll help to further protect classrooms, children and families across the province,” he said.
According to Alberta Health, the expansion means appointments are going to be open to 52,000 teachers, 29,000 support staff and 24,000 childcare workers.
The expansion applies to anyone working in any school setting, including public, Francophone, charter and First Nations schools, as well as substitute teachers and administrators and bus drivers.
Vaccinating teachers and school staff is something the workers themselves have long been advocating for, as well as groups representing them, like the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
In a Monday statement, ATA president Jason Schilling had only two words to say about the province’s move to put school staff on the priority list.
Kenney also said that despite delays in getting doses of the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Alberta will be sending 20,000 additional doses to Banff and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo where the age limit for getting a shot is being lowered to 18.
As the vaccine supply continues to increase in Alberta, Kenney said it’s expected the province will be able to move into Phase 3 of vaccinations, meaning bookings for the general population over the age of 16, “in the very near future.”
Alberta has administered more than 1.64 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, meaning that 37 per cent of people over the age of 16 have received their first dose, Kenney said.
As of Monday, Alberta had 23,608 active cases of COVID-19, with 2,012 new infections being reported in the last 24 hours.
A total of 658 people were in hospital, with 154 being treated in ICUs.
The province’s positivity rate reached 13.2 per cent on Monday, with Alberta labs completing 15,058 tests on May 2.
Variants of concern made up 63.8 per cent of Alberta’s total active case count, with 1,900 being reported on Monday, bringing the total in the province to 15,054 infections.
With cases continuing to rise in the province, Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Monday that Okotoks and Rocky View County were added to the “hot spots” list, meaning increased health measures are now in effect in those areas.
Kenney also said the province was putting together a package of stricter measures, which could be imposed as early as Tuesday, as a means of getting the cases back under control.
Alberta Health confirmed four additional deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, with all four patients having had comorbidities. They included two men in their 70s, one in the Central zone and one in the Calgary zone, a man in his 90s in the Edmonton zone and a man in his 50s in the Edmonton zone.
Alberta reached another single-day record for new infections over the weekend, reporting 2,433 cases on Saturday and a positivity rate of 12 per cent.
Speaking to Global News on Monday, former Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. James Talbot said cases in the province are “going to continue to go up.”
“We said when the new variant appeared in the province — because it was more transmissible — if the province continued to relax as they were proposing to do, that we would see the new variant take off, that it would eventually become dominant,” Talbot said.
He said considering that’s now the case, the only way to bring Alberta in line with larger provinces like British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec would be to introduce lockdowns stricter than the ones in place now, and stricter than the ones introduced to gain control of the second wave.