Monday marked the end to a prolonged winter break for thousands of students across the province, after the Alberta government made the decision to delay a return to schools amid a surge in COVID-19 Omicron variant cases.
For some Lethbridge high school students, it was bittersweet.
“I mean, it was nice because, like, we got a break, but it kind of sucked for my classes and pushing them back,” said Grade 12 Lethbridge Collegiate Institute student Kobee Hall.
“I spent the week almost stressing more about school than relaxing.”
“I don’t think it made that much of a difference. It was just kind of weirder to come back to school (now),” admitted Grade 11 student Carson Gallant.
For others, the extra week meant time to catch up on homework or take a pause.
“I thought it was a good break, to get away from all of this COVID stuff, you know?” said Winston Churchill High School student Omar Ahmed.
Some new measures put in place by the province in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron variant this week include mask recommendations for all grade levels, and the expected shipment of rapid tests and medical grade face coverings by the end of the week.
Dr. Stephen Freedman, a COVID-19 researcher and ER physician with the Alberta Children’s Hospital, isn’t confident the extra week off had much of an effect on curbing the spread.
“Approximately 25 to 35 children per day are testing positive at the Alberta Children’s Hospital right now and that’s a dramatic spike from where we were in any of the other waves where the peak was 4 to 5 children per day,” Dr. Freedman said.
“In Alberta in particular we don’t have enough other measures in place.”
Some school divisions in cities such as Calgary and Edmonton have released staffing shortage numbers.
However, when asked about current staffing numbers and the potential effect of the return to classes amid the Omicron variant on teachers, the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division told Global News it doesn’t have those numbers available, but it is aware of the limited number of substitute educators available in the province.
“Fortunately, at this time our administrators are able to make accommodations that ensure that our schools remain operational. We are continuing to monitor the situation and are prepared to respond quickly should a quick transition to virtual learning be required,” a statement from the division read.
The Lethbridge School Division, meanwhile, said it would have a “better idea” of how absenteeism is impacting its operations.
School authorities do have the power to shift individual classes to at-home learning if necessary, but government approval will be needed to shift entire schools online.
“For the health and well-being of our children, we really need to do everything as a society to keep our children and have them be in school and minimize the need for online learning,” Dr. Freedman added.
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