By Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative ReporterSt. Albert Gazette
Sun., Oct. 17, 2021timer2 min. read
updateArticle was updated 4 hrs ago
Dozens of schools are reporting COVID outbreaks in Alberta while nearly 700 provincial schools are on a COVID-19 alert.
Due to high rates of COVID-19 in schools across the province, contact tracing resumed in schools on Tuesday, but it will take around six weeks before the province takes over the job.
On Oct. 5, the provincial government announced it would resume public reporting of COVID-19 cases in schools; initiating contact notifications in schools; clarifying COVID-19 outbreak definitions; and providing rapid testing kids to battle a fourth wave of the virus that has seen cases in education system skyrocket.
As of Sunday, 697 schools in the province were under an alert, with cases ranging from two to nine in each.
Another 47 schools in the province have reported an outbreak — which is 10 or more cases from one school.
Morinville has two schools on outbreak, with Georges H Primeau School and Morinville Public School listed with 10 or more cases.
In St. Albert there are six schools on alert with two to four cases, including Ecole Marie Poburan, Joseph M. Demko School, Lois E. Hole Elementary School, Robert Rundle Elementary, Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, Sir George Simpson Junior High, and Vincent J. Maloney Catholic School.
There are seven schools on alert with five to nine cases, including Elmer S Gish School, Keenooshayo Elementary School, Leo Nickerson Elementary, Muriel Martin Elementary School, Paul Kane High School, Ronald Harvey Elementary, and Wild Rose Elementary School.
Advocacy group, Support our Students (SOS), has been keeping track of outbreaks and alerts across the province, even before the provincial government started publicly disclosing outbreaks, and said COVID-19 cases in schools are rapidly escalating.
“Since the onset of the school year we have really seen these explosions of cases around the province and it’s resulting in a mass amount of absence from schools,” said SOS communications director Wing Li.
Last year there were only 20 to 30 schools that were under an outbreak status, and the threshold for an outbreak was lower, Li said.
“Last year it was two cases at this time to be considered an outbreak,” Li said.
“Even moving that threshold up higher and higher we keep hitting it.”
During previous waves Li said they would see five or six students absent because they were positive for COVID-10, but now schools are seeing more kids missing class due to the virus.
And the outbreaks in schools strongly correlate with the overall COVID-19 data being reported by the province, with residents under the age of 20 seeing a giant spike in diagnoses since September began.
COVID-19 is hitting students harder this wave, but rural students are also getting exposed to the virus in ways they weren’t before.
“The intensity in rural is ramping up,” Li said.
During other waves, rural schools, with smaller populations, had to close sooner. But during this fourth wave, cases in rural schools are accelerating more quickly. Right now the central region of the province is seeing a high number of outbreaks, Li said.