Several Alberta schools experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks early in 2021-22 school year

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Several Alberta schools experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks early in 2021-22 school year
WATCH ABOVE: A number of schools in Alberta are now on "outbreak" status while other parents have been notified of COVID-19 cases from administration. But Dr. Deena Hinshaw is sticking by her recommendation when it comes to the elimination of contact tracing, including in classrooms. Morgan Black reports – Sep 9, 2021

Just days into the 2021-22 school year, a number of Alberta schools have had a COVID-19 outbreak declared by Alberta Health Services.

According to AHS, an outbreak is currently declared at a school when there is 10 per cent or more absenteeism due to COVID-19/respiratory illness.

AHS is no longer informing school authorities of individual cases of COVID-19 “as notification to the school is not required for the management of the individual,” Alberta Health said in a statement Thursday.

Schools are expected to let AHS know when 10 per cent of students are home because they are or may be sick. AHS will then investigate and may declare an outbreak of a respiratory illness at the school and determine if it is related to COVID-19.

On Thursday, E.G. Wahlstrom School and C.J. Shurter Elementary School in Slave Lake, as well as High Prairie Elementary School, were all experiencing outbreaks.

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In an update, Medicine Hat Public School Division superintendent Mark Davidson said the school board has been made aware of positive COVID-19 cases in all schools in the division over the past week.

“Since positive COVID-19 cases continue to trend upward in our community, we expect that positive cases will continue to be present in our schools,” he said.

The Edmonton Catholic School District told Global News on Thursday that AHS has declared one outbreak within its school division.

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The Edmonton Public School Division says it is not aware of any schools in the district that have had an outbreak declared.

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South of Edmonton, Black Gold School Division said it has not been alerted by AHS about any COVID-19 outbreaks in that district, but asked parents to continue screening their kids for symptoms, encourage good hand and respiratory hygiene and adhere to the division’s masking policy.

On Thursday evening, the Parkland School Division confirmed three schools have been put under “outbreak” status: Prescott Learning Centre, Duffield School and Tomahawk School.

On Friday morning, Elk Island Public Schools confirmed there is one outbreak at Woodbridge Farms Elementary. EIPS said the declaration was triggered by AHS.

The non-profit advocacy group Support Our Students Alberta provided an online tracking system for parents throughout past school years during the pandemic.

The group’s communications director Wing Li said the program is no longer able to run this school year due to a lack of data.

“Parents are reaching out with this black hole of information,” she said.

“They want someone to fill it. But without a consistent chain of information, there’s no reliable way to do that, unless it’s rumours or hearsay.”

Last year, Li said the group received about 80 to 90 per cent of case confirmations from Alberta Health. This year, they’re using a “very basic tool” to screen and prevent spread instead.

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“Not knowing where cases are causes more anxiety than necessary,” she said. “If we had a robust system that didn’t fall on schools and parents offering information, that would be (more helpful).”

On July 28, Alberta announced it would no longer be contacting close contacts of COVID-19 cases as of July 29, nor would close contacts be expected to legally isolate.

Dr. Shazma Mithani, an ER doctor in Edmonton, said contact tracing is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19, particularly when it comes to schools.

“We’re going to see a lot of rapid spread occurring. It’s not just going to be between students. The teachers are at risk, the parents of all those students as well. It’s not just kids. It’s going to spill into the adult population quite quickly.”

The province still recommends anyone with symptoms isolate and arrange for testing as soon as possible.

Alberta Health said a framework for respiratory illness outbreaks is expected to be finalized soon.

The full back-to-school plan is available on the government’s website.

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