Calgary schools will remain open, despite mounting questions from teachers and parents about their health safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, school boards in southern Alberta, including Calgary, cancelled extra-curricular activities and other inter-school events that involved large gatherings. At the same time, the province restricted gatherings of 250 people or more.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, in her daily briefing where media were informed of another six coronavirus cases, she said she understands the worry from families and teachers.
“We have seen other provinces and countries close schools as a preventive measure,” she said.
“What is important to know is that school closures are not universally agreed on as an effective intervention to prevent spread.”
FURTHER READING: School closures and class suspensions: WHO – 2009 H1n1 pandemic
Alberta’s aggressive public health measures the first step
Dr. Hinshaw said that in the areas where school closures have been enacted, they haven’t taken the same aggressive public health measures as have been done in Alberta.
She also said that the World Health Organization doesn’t recommend school closures as the only way to prevent spread among children.
“Given the current situation in Alberta, the fact that any school closure would need to be in place for months, not weeks, to be effective, the fact that students may still be at risk of spreading infection in other settings besides schools, even if schools were closed, I have advised that school closures not be implemented at this time,” Hinshaw said.
Steps should still be taken to limit groups to less than 250 people.
During Friday’s media update, the province said a new, online self-assessment tool would be available for people to run through a checklist to see if they should pursue further COVID-19 treatment. You can find it here (should go live within 24 hours, province said.)
Dr. Hinshaw also said that they’re not requiring post-secondary schools close either.
She once again reiterated that COVID-19 spread is best stopped through proper hygiene: Hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after blowing nose, coughing or sneezing and if using the washroom. Avoid touching your face. If you’re feeling ill – stay home.
No community-acquired cases, said Dr. Hinshaw
Dr. Hinshaw said the situation is rapidly evolving and much consideration has been given to school closures.
“Given that at the moment, we again, have no community acquired cases of COVID-19 in this province, and given that we know that the World Health Organization again has said that there are multiple ways to keep the school environment safe given that we know that some countries that have been very successful in containing the spread of COVID have not, in fact, closed their schools,” she said.
“And given that any school closure, in my opinion, would need to be in place for many months in order to be effective, this is not a decision to be made lightly or a decision to be made in the short term.
“And so, I believe that by working very closely together with school boards in schools, we can help them put in place measures to make that school environment as safe as possible.”
Hinshaw said a province-wide closure of schools wouldn’t be the best thing for reducing risk of students, teachers and staff.