The province has hit pause on the COVID-19 transition.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health announced the province’s decision to extend the COVID-19 transition by six weeks. Also Friday, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange talked about public health measures as public schools in Calgary will start in-person learning on Sept. 1.
The province has been monitoring COVID-19 in Alberta for the past two weeks and decided to continue with the mandatory masking in public transit, taxis and ride-shares. They’ll also keep mandatory 10-day isolation for those with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result and testing assessment centres for symptomatic individuals.
On Aug. 11, the province reported 550 more COVID-19 cases. There have been a string of days with 500+ cases reported.
“I want to be clear that it is still important for us to continue to work towards a sustainable approach to managing COVID-19 that considers the harms of interventions, as well as the direct harms from COVID-19,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health
“This is why the changes related to contact tracing that came into effect July 29 remain in effect. We are not going backwards. We are pausing to monitor and assess before taking a next step forward.”
The additional time will allow Alberta’s COVID-19 response plan to be in line with other respiratory viruses.
Back to school
On Aug. 12, the Calgary Board of Education announced mandatory masking for modified calendar students.
As students go back to school, Alberta has created health guidance to ensure student safety and help schools to be prepared for the school year.
A new Guidance for Respiratory Illness Prevention and Management in Schools document to help schools to reduce respiratory illness and infection and a back-to-school tool kit provides information for parents and school staff on what to expect as students head to their classrooms.
“Less than half of 1% of all diagnosed COVID cases in school aged children have required hospital care, and thankfully there have been no COVID related deaths in children,” Hinshaw said.
On September 7, temporary school clinics will be implemented to increase accessibility to COVID-19 vaccines, available for grades 7 to 12 students with parent or guardian consent, as well as teachers and staff.
All eligible Albertans, including students, school staff, parents and guardians are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated with both doses prior to the school year.
No specific in-school restrictions
While masking will be required on school buses until at least Sept. 27, these measures and the climbing vaccination rates in the province mean students and parents can return to school with no restrictions on in-person learning or extracurricular activities.
“In-person classes, field trips team sports, extracurricular clubs, schools celebrations and reconnecting with friends and colleagues, international student programs work experience and graduation celebrations, can all continue as they normally would and all with no restrictions,” Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education, said.
“Students and school staff should screen daily for core symptoms and must, must isolate. If they have the core COVID-19 symptoms or test positive.”
Physical, mental and emotional health of children have been taken into consideration to ensure precautions are proportionate to the overall risk level associated with the return to in-person learning, LaGrange said.
“We know that the public health measures that were necessary last year to control COVID-19, including the temporary closure of schools to in-person learning quarantine of entire classes and canceling extracurricular events have been associated with a deterioration in the mental health of children and youth,” Hinshaw said.
“Many children have reported increased feelings of social isolation, depression, and anxiety. It is important to keep the negative impacts of these measures in mind, particularly when looking at a population that is at lower risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, looking at our data right here in Alberta, children have had very low rates of severe illness, compared with other health risks.”
Throughout the school year, school officials can make decisions that are right for them and their communities, including putting health measures in place that may exceed those put in place across the province.
Alberta opposition responds
The Official Opposition Alberta NDP said that the government is choosing six weeks rather than using data to determine their COVID-19 decisions.
“I’m concerned that the Kenney government is simply kicking the can down the road and Alberta may be back in the same absurd position in late September if cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions continue to rise,” said NDP Health Critic David Shepherd, in a prepared release.
“It appears that public health decisions are still being driven more by the political motives of Jason Kenney than by professional public health advice.”
On the school front, Shepherd said the province is failing students, parents and teachers.
“It’s bizarre to hear Dr. Hinshaw say she is preserving Test-Trace-Isolate because of emerging evidence of delta variant spread among children, and then hear Adriana LaGrange say the province will do nothing to limit that spread in schools this fall,” Shepherd said.