As Alberta's number of COVID-19 cases increases, so does concern for schools

WATCH ABOVE: As the province shifts back to Step 1, should schools be closed again? Some parents are keeping their kids home and experts are calling for more measures — such as teachers being vaccinated — in order to limit the risk of COVID-19 and its highly contagious variants. Sarah Komadina has more.

Hoping to avoid COVID-19 cases that may come after a long weekend if families and friends decided to gather, Alberta mom Kalin Jensen decided to keep her son home from school this week.

“With the variant cases rising — my son is almost 10, and for that age group, the amount of active cases has gone up so much,” Jensen said.

“If anybody did catch anything, hopefully the symptoms would arise in the meantime and (that person would) be able to get tested — maybe this week. So my hope is to send him on Monday, but we’ll see.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Concern grows among parents as variant cases rise in Alberta schools 

Jensen said her son’s class was sent home once already because of a positive case a month ago.

“The peace of mind I have is the school itself has gone above and beyond what’s expected,” she said.

Some question whether the province should take further action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and suspend in-person learning at schools. Some provinces have implemented stronger measures as most of the country enters a third wave of COVID-19 cases.

In Quebec, high school students are alternating between in-person class and online learning. In Saskatchewan, some school boards have been asked to go to online learning after spring break, and Ontario’s largest school districts were ordered to close.

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said the Alberta government has made schools being open a priority, and that it also needs to make those who work in schools a priority. He said he wants the province to provide additional support, whether it’s through more PPE or added cleaning measures. But most importantly, he wants all teachers and school staff vaccinated.

“We’ve seen rising cases in the community, we are seeing an increase within schools, we are not seeing the government take any action towards making the plans stronger to vaccinate teachers in those schools. So to see a rise in cases, and an inaction by government, is concerning,” Schilling said.

“Ultimately, teachers want to be with their students at the school, and working with them at that capacity.”

“Having a vaccination for those working in schools and close proximity with students is an extra layer of security.”

Dr. James Tallbot, the co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s strategic COVID-19 pandemic committee, said when schools are shut down, it has a big effect on parents and workplaces.

He said he believes schools should probably be the last places to be closed because of all the benefits of having them open, but the variants and rising COVID-19 numbers are a cause for concern.

Read more:
Alberta doctors say new restrictions ‘not enough’ to reduce spread of COVID-19

“The variants are already showing a pretty good effect in a school sports setting,” Talbot said. “There are already several quite large outbreaks in schools and athletic kind of events. That’s a place to start.”

There are currently over 400 schools with active COVID-19 cases, including a school in Athabasca with 97, but there are no plans to change any of the restrictions for schools right now.

“Right now, we are hearing that we just need to continue on with the protocols we have in place,” Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said.

“Of course we are monitoring those variants very closely, and if (Alberta chief medical officer of health) Dr. (Deena) Hinshaw and her team tells us we need to up our protocol, we certainly will.”

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