Edmonton Public calls for Alberta government to reinstate contact tracing as schools grapple with COVID-19 cases
Edmonton Public Schools (EPS) is urging the Alberta government to bring back contact tracing and mandatory quarantining amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in classes just weeks after the start of the school year.
In a letter sent Sept. 16 to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and then-health minister Tyler Shandro, and made public Tuesday, board chair Trisha Estabrooks said given Alberta is still in a pandemic and children under the age of 12 can’t be vaccinated, the board of trustees agree that these safety measures are critical and need to be reinstated.
“We need the government to act now. We implore you to show responsible leadership by immediately reinstating contact tracing, close contact notification and mandatory quarantining for close contacts in schools,” Estabrooks wrote.
Nicole Sparrow, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said in an emailed statement to Postmedia that the safety of students, parents, teachers and staff remains their top priority and they will continue to follow the advice of chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and will make changes as necessary.
During the province’s COVID-19 update, Hinshaw said they know kids under the age of 12 can’t access the protection that vaccines have to offer but she says they are doing everything they can to support those turning 12 and older this year to be able to access a COVID-19 vaccine.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her party has called for these measures to be brought back to schools and she added that it should be one of the new health minister’s first decisions made.
“That is something that should be redone exactly as the school boards are asking for and if this health minister wants to suggest that he actually does amount to fresh eyes, I would suggest that he ought to make that his first decision (Wednesday),” Notley told media following Kenney’s COVID-19 press conference.
“We need to reinstitute testing, contact tracing, notification and close contact quarantine in those settings,” said Notley. “In addition, we should be accelerating vaccination programs in each and every school across the province because, of course, there are many schools that have eligible kids for vaccine who are well below the vaccination rate amongst other age groups. So, there’s a lot that can be done and they’re not doing it.”
Sparrow said additional measures such as localized rapid testing in schools could be considered if the need arises. She said school boards can also request test kits from Alberta Health if they’re interested in running their own testing program.
“We remain in contact with AHS zone medical officers of health as well as AHS environmental public health teams, who continue to work with school divisions, like Edmonton Public to address any local issues,” said Sparrow.
Sparrow added AHS is offering vaccinations in schools across the province and students in Grade 7-12 can receive whichever vaccine they are eligible for in school.
In July, Alberta ended contact tracing, and mandatory isolation for close contacts of positive cases, except for high-risk settings.
Masks were not required in classrooms until last Wednesday, when the government changed tack.
Estabrooks writes in her letter that EPS is notifying families when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in their classroom or school because they believe they have the responsibility to be transparent and share information with those in their schools. She said they are asking families to self-report when there is a positive case but they know they are missing many positive cases within their division.
As of noon on Sept. 16, just 10 days into classes, EPS had 239 reported cases of COVID-19, Estabrooks writes. However, there isn’t an update on how many cases have been reported to date.
“Community case numbers are showing no signs of receding and our hospitals are being crippled by the influx of cases,” reads the letter. “As cases increase, we also have increased absences because parents are choosing to keep their children at home, and increasing calls from parents wanting to move their children to online learning and/or have quarantine orders. We hope the measures announced on Sept. 15 will bend the curve, but we know that will take time. Our schools need solutions immediately.”
Postmedia reached out to Alberta Health for a response to the letter but didn’t hear back as of press time.