K-12 classes and daycares will be closed in Alberta effective immediately due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, says Premier Jason Kenney.
There are now 56 cases of COVID-19 in Alberta. The province confirmed 17 new cases in the last 24 hours in the province, three in Edmonton zone and 14 in Calgary zone.
So far one person has been confirmed with coronavirus in the central Alberta zone. The exact location of the case is unknown.
The closures for students are also in effect for post-secondary schools, officials said Sunday. All licensed child care, out-of-school care programs and preschool programs in Alberta will now be closed until further notice.
“We will be indefinitely cancelling classes across the province,” said Adriana LaGrange, minister of education and Red Deer-North MLA.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Deena Hinshaw says there is now evidence of community transmission of coronavirus in Alberta.
At least two cases identified in the last two days appear to have been acquired through community transmission from an unknown source, and seven cases occurred as a result of a single gathering in the Calgary zone, Hinshaw said.
“The new cases that have emerged today, particularly those demonstrating transmission into communities and school settings, means we need to put in place additional restrictions for schools, day cares, continuing care facilities, and worship gatherings,” said Hinshaw.
“These decisions are not made lightly, and I know they will have a tremendous impact on Albertans’ day-to-day lives, particularly parents, children, and seniors. But it is crucial we do everything possible to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19.”
Places of worship are no longer exempt from large gatherings as they were before. Public health officials continue to recommend that all mass gatherings of 250 people or more are cancelled.
Any event that has more than 50 attendees and expects to have international participants, or involves critical infrastructure staff, seniors, or other high-risk populations, should also be cancelled.
The premier says Albertans need to avoid all leisure travel at this time.
“I still hear about people planning to take spring break outside of the country, if they do so, they may have difficulty getting back into Canada because of the cancellation of flights, and when they do come back they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days,” said Kenney. “There’s no good reason to be travelling for leisure purposes at this time.”
The province has committed an additional $500 million towards COVID-19 response.
“This is truly an unprecedented public health emergency for Alberta, and our government is committed to bolstering the efforts of our front-line health professionals with the resources they need to continue protecting the province,” Kenney said.
Although classes are cancelled, post-secondary campuses will remain open. School authorities are also expected to continue their regular day-to-day operations and ensure the safety of school facilities. Maintenance, capital projects, cleaning of facilities and administrative work will continue.
Teachers and other school staff will still be expected to work, either from home or at their workplace, to ensure these expectations are met. Decisions on how to do this are still to be made, and it may vary depending on the school jurisdiction.
Officials said Sunday that every K-12 student will receive a final mark and students will progress to their next grade level next year. Provincial assessments, such as provincial achievement tests, will be cancelled. At this time, diploma exams essential for post-secondary acceptance will continue. Every student who is eligible to graduate from Grade 12 this year will graduate.
“I know student progression will be on the minds of both parents and students. We expect every student to receive a final mark and that students will progress to their next grade level next year,” said LaGrange.
Approved day homes are exempt from closures because they care for fewer than seven children at a time. These programs are encouraged to use enhanced sanitation practices.
The province is also asking all long-term care and other continuing care facilities to limit visitations to essential visitors at this time.