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78% of Edmonton public schools have COVID-19 cases; ‘We have an incomplete picture’

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WATCH (Sept. 16): In the wake of Wednesday's announcement that Alberta has once again declared a state of public health emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, post-secondary schools were told to cancel in-person classes. There's also new guidance from the province for K-12 schools. Nicole Stillger has more – Sep 16, 2021

As of Sept. 28, there were 573 COVID-19 cases in Edmonton public schools, but all of those were self-reported by parents of students, Edmonton Public School Board board chair Trisha Estabrooks said Tuesday.

Alberta Health is no longer notifying schools or districts about positive COVID-19 cases, nor is it providing contact tracing nor mandatory isolation of close contacts of positive cases.

Read more: Alberta teachers frustrated, anxious about COVID-19 outbreaks: union

“That information isn’t being shared in an open, transparent manner with school divisions,” Estabrooks said. “We know that number is not accurate.

“That is our biggest frustration… We don’t have an accurate picture of what COVID looks like in our schools.”

This time last year, she said there were 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Edmonton public schools.

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Currently, 12 schools are on outbreak status. There are 573 self-reported cases in 165 schools.

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COVID-19: Alberta Education confirms 5 schools moving to online classes – Sep 24, 2021

Estabrooks said the division is committed to being as transparent and open with whatever data it has to help inform parents and keep students and staff as safe as possible.

Based on the numbers reported by students’ families, 78 per cent of EPSB schools have at least one case of COVID-19, Estabrooks said. Seventy per cent of total cases are in kindergarten to Grade 6 schools, with children who are under 12 and cannot yet be vaccinated.

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

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She said EPSB trustees wrote a “strongly worded” letter to the province, asking it to bring back contact tracing, mandatory isolation for close contacts of positive cases and — most of all — sharing COVID-19 data with schools.

Read more: Edmonton Catholic Schools taking COVID-19 contact tracing into its own hands

EPSB wasn’t the only metro school division to write such a letter, Estabrooks said.

“I’m pleased to say we had a meeting recently with the minister of education… to share our concerns and make it clear what we’re asking.

“That, at this point, the situation is not improving in our schools and an immediate ask to reinstate some of the measures that were in place last year.”

The rate at which COVID-19 is increasing in schools is alarming, Estabrooks said.

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How a public education advocacy group is tracking which Alberta schools have COVID-19 outbreaks – Sep 26, 2021

“We have an incomplete picture,” she added, saying it makes it difficult to make decisions about moving classes online without accurate information.

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“We need access to data in order to make good decisions.”

During a COVID-19 update Tuesday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney acknowledged that percentage-wise, the highest growth in Alberta’s COVID-19 cases is in school-aged kids who can’t be vaccinated, particularly in rural areas with low vaccine uptake in the general population.

When asked if it’s time to cancel in-person learning and shift back to online learning, the premier said the province has always sought to prioritize in-classroom instruction, “recognizing that there are real and lasting negative impacts on children and their life chances, on their mental health and well-being to create the constant instability of opening and closing schools and not having the opportunity for socialization.”

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw stressed that 10 days ago, the province added more requirements to school operations, including mandatory masking and cohorting in elementary schools.

“We are working with the education ministry to determine if anything additional is needed. But as was mentioned, education is a key determinant of health, and the access to in-school opportunities for learning and development is something that is a high priority,” Hinshaw said.

“The number one thing we can all do to protect schools is to reduce our in-person contacts outside our household and for all those eligible to come forward and be vaccinated.”

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Two different classes in two separate schools have moved to online learning, Estabrooks said.

Read more: Northwest Edmonton elementary school moves to online learning amid COVID-19 surge

Last week, all students at Westglen School in northwest Edmonton shifted to online learning after dozens of cases of COVID-19 were identified.

In a letter sent to families Thursday, the school’s principal said 31 cases of COVID-19 were reported to the school. In a statement, the EPSB said 29 people at the school had self-reported cases since Monday.

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Edmonton school moves to online learning amid COVID-19 surge – Sep 24, 2021
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