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COVID outbreak sends Wild Rose students home

Board chair calls for contact tracing by province
0609 SchoolOutbreak 5829 km
AT HOME FOR TWO WEEKS — Wild Rose students are learning from home from Oct. 1 to Oct. 14, 2021, due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Some 114 staff and students in the district had COVID as of the end of September, which was a substantial increase from the seven that did at the end of September 2020. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette
Wild Rose students will be learning from home for the first half of October as school officials try to clamp down on a COVID-19 outbreak.

Wild Rose Elementary students learned Oct. 1 they would be learning from home until Oct. 14 due to the school’s active cases of COVID-19.

St. Albert Public Schools launched a website to track COVID cases and outbreaks in its schools that same day.

Alberta Health Services declared an outbreak of respiratory disease at the school Sept. 24. St. Albert Public superintendent Krimsen Sumners said AHS did not order the school to take any additional safety measures to contain the outbreak as the school was already taking all the steps it would ordinarily recommend (including universal masking and class cohorts).

Sumners said the board has not received guidance from the province as to when to send a class home due to COVID — they’ve used three cases in a class as a benchmark. They asked the province for permission to send everyone at Wild Rose home on Oct. 1 for two weeks after about 12 COVID cases were reported there in about week, with almost every class reporting at least one case. (The school has had 15 known cases since the start of this school year.)

Sumners said the district had 114 active cases as of the end of September — substantially more than the seven it had at this time last year.

“I’m sure we’re not hearing about all the cases,” Sumners said, as the province is no longer reporting cases to school boards and not requiring parents to report cases.

School officials have also had to take up contact tracing for cases as the province isn’t doing that anymore, Sumners said.

“There is no support around the test, trace, and isolate.”

Unlike last fall, where most cases were in junior and senior high schools, Sumners said most of this fall’s cases are in elementary schools. She suspects the more infectious Delta variant and relaxed safety measures over the summer are to blame for the high case load.

Sumners said this is the first time the district has sent an entire school home due to COVID during the pandemic besides those times when the province ordered whole swaths of grades to learn from home.

Wild Rose is the only St. Albert and Sturgeon County school that has been sent home due to COVID as of Oct. 4, according to the Support Our Students School Outbreak List. Outbreaks had been declared at Bellerose Composite, Bon Accord, Camilla, École La Mission, Four Winds, Gibbons, Keenooshayo, Morinville Public, Notre Dame, St. Kateri, Ronald Harvey, and Wild Rose schools. (Note that this is not a complete list, as the province is no longer reporting outbreaks.)

Greater St. Albert Catholic spokesperson Shanlyn Cunningham said in an email that GSACRD had 87 diagnosed COVID cases this September compared to four in September 2020. Seven classes had been switched to online learning as of Oct. 4.

Call for provincial action

St. Albert Public board chair Glenys Edwards said parents are doing a great job of reporting cases but are undoubtedly missing some.

“Testing and contact tracing and self-isolation are critical for keeping our schools open and keeping our students and staff safe,” she said.

“We as a school district do not have the resources and we don’t have the information to act as contact tracers, so we need the province to take on that role.”

Edwards said she is very concerned for student and staff safety under these conditions. She called on the province to reinstate the isolation requirements for close contacts it had in place last fall for COVID-19 and for health officials to once again require all positive test results in staff and students to be reported to schools.

“We have got to reduce the amount of transmission in schools.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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