As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the province, cases among children have also seen a spike in recent weeks.
Albertans aged five to 19 now make up about 22 per cent, or 1,832 of Alberta’s 8,350 active cases.
“We are seeing a concerning rise in cases in all age groups, including school-aged Albertans,” said Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan, as Alberta reported an additional 871 COVID-19 cases Wednesday.
“At this time, activities outside of school, including sports and socializing, are playing a key role in spreading the virus among young people.”
Those rising case numbers in children are also impacting schools.
There are 409 schools on alert or outbreak in the province – about 17 per cent of Alberta’s schools – making up 1,809 cases in total.
According to Alberta Health data, in-school transmission has likely occurred in 299 schools and, of those, 140 have had only one new case occur as a result.
Wing Li, communications director for Support Our Students, an online advocacy group that tracks COVID-19 cases in schools, said the organization has been concerned with the rising number of cases in schools over the past several weeks.
Support Our Students is calling on further transparency in reporting from the provincial government.
“In the past three weeks we have seen an acceleration of cases in schools, some that were COVID-free since November or December,” Li said.
“Particularly alarming is the rapid increase of variants of concern reported in schools. One Sylvan Lake school even reported that as much as half of their cases were variant of concern. We are receiving a barrage of cases every day even though many schools are now on spring/Easter break.”
The Alberta Teachers Association is sharing similar concern over the rising case totals in both the community as a whole and school-aged children.
“This is the perfect example – when you see those numbers rising in that age category, why we’ve been advocating for teachers and all school staff to be vaccinated,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.
“Government has made it a priority that schools be open during the pandemic, so they need to make the people who are working in those buildings a priority.”
Locally, schools in Red Deer are also feeling the effects of the virus.
Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School continues to deal with an outbreak of 10-plus cases. The high school added two more cases on Sunday and has had 18 cases since Jan. 1 according to Support Our Students, including nine cases since the beginning of March.
West Park Elementary moved into outbreak status this week and has had five cases since Jan. 1.
Notre Dame High School added one new case last Friday and moved to alert status this week. The province defines alert ranking as having between two and four cases.
West Park Middle School added a case this week and is on alert status, while Eastview Middle School also added a case.
Hunting Hills High School added a case on March 27.
St. Teresa of Avila School, St. Joseph High School and St. Thomas Aquinas School are all still on outbreak status with 10-plus cases. Fairview School is on outbreak status with five to nine cases.
Schilling said the most recent spike in cases is similar to what was experienced in the fall, with schools shifting back and forth between online and in-class learning, because of the spike in community spread.
“Teachers are concerned about it when they see a rise in cases in the community because we know that our schools are as safe as our communities,” he said.
“When we see a rise in case of numbers within the community, we see that echoed and reflected within our schools. Teachers want to be in school working with their kids. What we’re seeing this spring is a repeat of what we had in the fall – where we have schools that are having to pivot online at a moment’s notice, then back to school, or a certain grade goes back online.
“It’s causing a lot of stress for students and teachers and their families obviously. It’s been a complicated and challenging year and as we see more cases pop up, it causes a lot of anxiety for people.”