The province changed COVID-19 quarantine rules for those who are partially or fully vaccinated in May, but the 14-day quarantine period will remain the status quo for Edmonton students who are close contacts.
Since May 27, approximately 990 students and staff within Edmonton Public Schools have been asked to quarantine; 316 students and staff within Edmonton Catholic Schools have been quarantining since June 1.
According to the provincial rules that were updated May 20, Albertans who had received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine will have a 10-day quarantine period instead of 14 days as long as the close contact has no symptoms.
Close contacts will still be required to get a COVID-19 test. However, if individuals with one dose of vaccine receive a negative COVID-19 test on Day 7 or later in the quarantine period, they will be able to stop quarantining.
However, Alberta’s education ministry said the quarantine rules have not changed for schools.
Both Edmonton Catholic Schools and Edmonton Public Schools said the 14-day quarantine period will be required for students and staff to go back to in-person learning after being deemed a close contact.
Dr. Chris Mody, head of the department of Immunology, Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary, said he would be comfortable with students going back to school with a negative test after seven days.
Mody said young children are less likely to transmit the virus than an adult and that a first dose of vaccine will provide a level of protection.
“As an added precaution, we know that they have a negative test, so even if they have the virus, the burden is below the level that can be detected on RNA, which is a very sensitive test, so it means that one, two, three factors suggest they’re very unlikely to transmit it,” he said.
However, Wing Li, communications director for Support Our Schools, is comfortable with schools sticking by the 14-day quarantine period.
“We’re seeing school boards exercising extra prudence at this point in time,” she said, pointing also to the variant situation in the province.
Li said in-school learning is ideal but that it has to be safe for everyone involved.
“Our advocacy point is to protect the schools as much as possible and with lack of conventional resources, this is what it comes down to,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Stephanie Smith said it may come down to logistics, such as if only half a class is partially vaccinated and the other half is not.
“You may have situations where you have teachers who are still off and half the kids are coming back and half of them are online.
“I think it’s just really complicated essentially to try to operationalize this when we’re in such a fluid period where there’s a fairly large number of people that are maybe not vaccinated at all and some that are partially vaccinated or getting to that partial vaccination point, i.e. 14 days from their first dose,” Smith said.
Smith said things may be less complex in the fall, when those who want to be fully vaccinated are able to be.
“I think the schools have a bit more time to develop their policies in terms of how they’re going to manage the school year going forward and I think that it will be much easier when you have a fully vaccinated population as opposed to a proportion of partially vaccinated kids,” she said.
In a statement to Global News, Alberta Education spokesperson Nicole Sparrow said the safety protocols in place in schools are effective in limiting the risk of widespread in-school transmission.
“We will continue to follow the advice of the chief medical officer of health and we are ready to make changes to when needed based on her advice,” Sparrow said.
-with files from Caley Ramsay