By Samantha Johnson
Late in the afternoon on Jan. 5, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, presented their plan for students returning to school on Jan. 10.
During the last week of 2021, the UCP extended the winter break by one week — this extension was to allow schools authorities extra time to plan for the second half of the school year facing the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
LaGrange said, “children who learn in person belong in the classroom and they will be there with the added safety of rapid tests and medical grade masks. The government will begin distributing shipments later this week and all schools will have their shipments by the end of next week. This is on top of the significant health measures schools already have in place, such as vaccine policies for staff, masking, distancing and enhanced cleaning measures. In making this decision, we looked very carefully at information from school authorities as well as health data.”
When asked about the details of the data they looked at and if it would be made available to the public, LaGrange’s answer was evasive, “we will share that data as we are able to.”
LaGrange went on to say how it important it is for children and youth to be in the classroom and why the UCP is making it a priority for safe classroom instruction. When questioned about the air quality issue in schools, she said, “school authorities continue to work on further refinements, and I know that stand alone HEPA filter systems can be placed into a classroom. Unless the overall system is looked at by experts, sometimes that can be more of a hindrance than an improvement to the system.”
The UCP is also launching a e-tutoring hub next week with pre-recorded literacy and numeracy sessions for those in grades four to nine. This tool is to help those children who have fallen behind in their learning due to the pandemic. The hub will be expanded later this year to include more subjects and live tutoring.
LaGrange closed by saying, “Alberta Education is working closely with school authorities to support shifts that may be required for operational reasons, such as student or staff absences. School authorities will continue to have the flexibility to shift an individual class or grade to short-term at home learning as needed while shifting an entire school or school authority to at home learning will continue to be approved by the government.”
Hinshaw started her portion with data, citing 4,752 new cases and 12,000 completed tests in the past day. New record daily highs have 417 in hospital, with 72 in ICU, along with 11 new deaths. The positivity rate for lab confirmed cases is currently at 36.9 per cent.
“We know that COVID infection has a low, but not zero, risk for children. We also know that in person learning is critically important for many kids educational and social development and can provide a sense of stability and normalcy in these challenging times. There are no perfect, risk-free solutions and the current approach balances the many competing risks our children face. It is strongly recommended all students, including those in kindergarten to grade three, wear masks,” said Hinshaw.
She stressed the importance of vaccination for all children over five years of age, stating, “vaccination is the single most effective tool we have to reduce the risk of infection and severe illness from infection.” Questions about vaccines can be directed to 811 and there is also a pediatric town hall recording posted on Alberta.ca.
Their will be a different approach to school reporting, as AHS no longer has the capacity for case reporting outside of continuing care and health care workers. Each person will still be notified of their test results and their isolation responsibilities. Parents are required to complete a daily health assessment of their children. It is suggested a rapid test is done twice a week to screen for asymptomatic infection.
“Our schools were safe before the pandemic, they were safe the last two years during the pandemic with all of the measure we’ve put in place and with these additional measure they will continue to be safe,” said Hinshaw.