CALGARY – While the school year has only just started, yet four Calgary schools are already reporting possible COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Calgary Board of Education says Children’s Village School in Renfrew, Wood’s Homes School MOD in Parkdale, Niitsitapi Learning Centre in Dover, and Cappy Smart School in Marlborough have all reported positive cases since Aug. 31.
Children’s Village is a K to 6 school with 87 students enrolled. Wood’s Homes has 85 students ranging from Grades 1 to 12.
Over 180 kids go to Cappy, which is a K to 5 school and 146 students are enrolled at Niitsitapi, which teaches K to Grade 2.
All of the schools are on modified calendars, and classes began in mid-August.
If 10 per cent of the school population is sick or absent from school, Alberta Health Services is called in to investigate.
AHS has said it won’t be alerting staff to positive cases in their schools for the 2021/22 school year unless there is an outbreak the health authority is investigating.
Contact tracing was taking place place last semester but as part of some recent changes when restrictions were loosened this summer, plans to trace cases in schools were scrapped.
The advocacy group Save Our Students (SOS) Alberta said in a previous interview that not having contact tracing in schools was causing a lot of anxiety for parents
“[This is] some basic information that should be given to let parents know so they can have a course of action. But without that information, we’re just hearing from really distressed families,” said Wing Li with the group.
She said the lack of information from the province is “especially disconcerting” at a time when cases and hospitalizations continue to climb in Alberta.
Dr. Daniel Gregson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, says infections should be expected following the start of classes but it’s hard to say how many others have been exposed.
“To control things in a whole school with ten per cent absenteeism, it’s hard to do anything more than close the school. That’s an option for them,” he said.
Another option could be to screen people on arrival to school, but Gregson said that has not been adopted widely around Canada. Gregson added another challenge is the fact kids under 12 are still not eligible for vaccination, and many younger people have lower rates of vaccination anyways.
“It’s not a question of if you’re going to get infected, the question is when. Being un-immunized means that at some point in time, you will get COVID.”
Alberta Teacher’s Association president Jason Schilling said he is also joining the calls to reinstate contact tracing, and that it is unfair for schools to bear most of the burden here.
“We have a complete abdication of of leadership and responsibility by our government,” Schilling said. “They can’t rely on schools and school boards to pick up this work. This is government’s job, this is the work that Alberta Health Services must provide.”
Later on Friday, the Calgary Board of Education released a statement that it will also begin informing parents about COVID-19 cases in schools, starting on Sept. 13.
“If families report a positive case, your school will send out an email notice to the school community at the end of that day. Notices will not be sent on the weekend,” read the statement.
Parents are advised to keep children home if they are sick, but because the province removed requirements for close contacts to isolate if you choose to keep a child home because they were near a positive case, it will be considered an unexcused absence.
The Calgary Catholic School District said they are not aware of any outbreaks currently in schools, and they will work directly with Alberta Health Services in suspected outbreak situations.
Earlier this week, the Medicine Hat School District announced all of its schools had reported COVID-19 cases.