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COVID in Schools: Calgary faces challenges in reporting cases

The Calgary Board of Education has disclosed that nine of their schools have had an AHS declared outbreak.

In the past week, these outbreaks have included North Haven School, Braeside School, and W.O. Mitchell School.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, didn’t say the number of schools with outbreaks during Thursday’s Covid-19 update.

Public education advocate Support our Students Alberta had collected reports from 97 schools across the province that have had outbreaks as of Thursday evening.

The current outbreak disclosure standard was created over the summer in conjunction with Alberta Education.

Currently, Alberta Health Services investigates to determine if there is an outbreak in a school after 10 per cent or more of the school population is absent. A letter is sent home to parents from AHS via the school if the investigation finds an outbreak has occurred.

Reporting changes coming?

Due to pressure from increased levels of outbreaks in the province, Dr. Hinshaw said that potential changes to the reporting structure will be discussed with Alberta Education.

“I know that there is keen interest in school outbreaks and we’re working very closely with the Ministry of Education to finalize a reporting framework,” she said.

“There are lots of discussions underway to determine what kinds of shifts may be required, if any.”

Dr. Hinshaw said that responses to school outbreaks would depend on the local context. Measures that would have been previously applied are now part of the province’s Covid-19 prevention efforts.

“It could be things like postponing extracurricular activities for a period of time,” she said.

The CBE said they’ve been able to fill most substitute positions since the start of the school year. In September that number was as 99.1 per cent.

“Substitute teachers play a vital role in keeping schools open to students to ensure the continuity of learning,” the CBE said in a statement.

“The CBE remains ready to respond to the needs of Calgary schools, and we will closely watch our staffing levels as the pandemic continues to evolve.

Province criticized for lack of contact tracing in schools

The current framework does not require close contact tracing to be performed in schools. That’s because close contacts arent r’equired to quarantine. Dr. Hinshaw said that close contact tracing without the mandatory quarantine requirement would violate privacy rights under the Health Information Act.

Dr. Hinshaw defended this lack of contact tracing in schools, saying there were benefits to the current framework.

“In some ways that is adding an additional layer of protection because if individuals choose to not get tested for COVID, but are home with an illness, they’re now counted in the list as being part of that outbreak,” she said.

Alberta’s NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said in a statement released to the media after Dr. Hinshaw’s update that the province must do more contact tracing in schools.

“Only yesterday, British Columbia returned to a policy of tracing cases in schools,” she said. 

“Alberta must follow suit and undertake every possible effort to stop the spread of this preventable disease in children.”

Schools don’t drive COVID transmission, CMOH said

The province has maintained that schools are not drivers of community transmission of Covid-19.

“What we see is that large-scale transmission in schools is not common, that schools are impacted by community transmission, but are not locations that drive community transmission outwards,” said Dr. Hinshaw.

The University of Calgary’s Centre for Health Informatics recorded 12,182 cases in 1,937 school outbreaks province-wide from September 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021. During the same period in the Calgary Health Zone, there were 4,966 cases in 744 outbreaks. The average Calgary school outbreak saw between six and seven cases.

The province has also maintained that schools are safe from causing severe outcomes.

“There are no other settings right now, aside from continuing care and acute care as locations where there’s a significant risk of transmission and severe outcomes, if there should be an outbreak,” said Dr. Hinshaw.