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54 Alberta schools declare COVID-19 outbreak, 702 schools are on alert: Alberta Health

A new Alberta Health outbreak list, posted online Wednesday afternoon, details the impact of the pandemic’s fourth wave in classrooms, as the province resumes public reporting of school outbreaks.

A masked student disembarks her bus and heads off to her first day of school in Edmonton. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

More than 50 Alberta schools are contending with active COVID-19 outbreaks, while more than 700 other schools are on alert for clusters of infection. 

A new Alberta Health outbreak list, posted online Wednesday afternoon, details the impact of the pandemic’s fourth wave in classrooms, as the province resumes public reporting of school outbreaks.

“It’s a great decision but I think it’s too late,” said Lori Hill, an Edmonton mother and a teacher with Edmonton Public Schools.

“There’s so many families that have already had kids get sick and family members get sick from the cases that we’ve seen in the schools.” 

According to the list, 54 schools have declared outbreaks, meaning 10 cases or more have been identified. The schools impacted stretch from Medicine Hat to Fort McMurray.

Here is a breakdown of the school outbreaks by health zone as of Wednesday afternoon:

  • Central zone: 21
  • Calgary zone: 11
  • North zone: 11
  • Edmonton zone: 10
  • South zone: 1

Another 702 schools, meanwhile, are on alert status — a declaration made when two or more cases have been identified within 14 days. 

Of the schools under alert, 490 have identified two to four cases. More than 212 schools are in the second alert category, identifying five to nine cases. 

No school-specific case counts were provided in the data released Wednesday. 

The school outbreak list will be updated daily, and a more detailed map of the outbreak data is under development, Alberta Health said.

Teacher blames lack of contact tracing for outbreak

The Alberta government had previously stopped providing any information on school outbreaks after suspending contact tracing in schools, and lifting requirements for students to isolate after close contact with a positive case.

But Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday a marked shift in how cases of COVID-19 will be handled in schools.

Schools that have more than two students who were infectious while in school are now being listed publicly.

Contact tracing will resume Oct. 12, when students return from Thanksgiving weekend. The province also plans to hand out rapid tests in late October at schools that are on outbreak status.

Hill believes her nine-year-old daughter contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak in September at Westglen School in northwest Edmonton. She blames a lack of contact tracing for making her family sick. 

By forcing school administrators to act as contact tracers, the province allowed the disease to spread unchecked among unvaccinated children, Hill said.

Concerned over rising cases at the school, Hill decided to pull her daughter from class on Sept. 23.

That night, she put her daughter to bed with a cough, fever and chest pain.

Hill, her daughter and husband all tested positive for COVID-19.

Also on Sept. 23, after parents reported more than 30 cases among students, Westglen announced it would move temporarily to online learning.

As of Wednesday, 84 cases had been reported to the school.

As announced Tuesday, Alberta Health Services will investigate all school outbreaks within a two-week period. Initially, school authorities will handle contact tracing and notification using data supplied by AHS. 

Students in kindergarten to Grade 6 will move online if there are three or more infectious cases in a class in a five-day period. 

Families of students in a class that gets sent home will be asked to avoid public places, monitor for symptoms and get tested if a child starts showing symptoms. Families will not be required to quarantine. 

An outbreak investigation is considered over when there have been no new confirmed cases in the school for 28 days.

The province is also asking for six million rapid-testing kits to send home for parents with unvaccinated children.

Jenna Pryor’s son contracted COVID-19 following an outbreak at his school. She says the province failed to adequately protect children from in-classroom transmission. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

‘I felt intense rage’

Jenna Pryor has four children, all too young to be vaccinated. Her eldest son, aged seven, also a student at Westglen, tested positive for COVID-19 last month. 

Her other children were also sick, leaving her fearful that her entire family had been infected.

“I felt intense rage, because my kids were sick and we have done everything right,” Pryor said.  

“It’s another example of our leadership failing us.” 

On Tuesday, before the new measures were announced, Edmonton public school trustees voted to request that the province close all schools for two weeks as part of a “firebreak” lockdown.

Rosanna Anderson, who has three young children enrolled in Edmonton public schools, supports the proposed lockdown.  

As cases among young people continue to surge, she remains fearful her sons will bring the disease home from school.

“Their dad is immunocompromised so that has been weighing heavily on us,” she said. 

“I feel like kids should move online to take some pressure off our already collapsed health-care system.” 

As of Wednesday, there were 18,912 active cases in Alberta, with 1,083 COVID patients in hospital. Roughly 30 per cent of Alberta’s active cases are among people aged one to 19.

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