Central Alberta school administrators and Alberta Health officials are huddling to figure out the best way to roll out new contact tracing requirements.
Premier Jason Kenney announced earlier this week that contact tracing was to resume in schools next Tuesday after students return from the Thanksgiving break. As well, the government is stepping up efforts to encourage school authorities to have proof of vaccination policies in place for adults.
Testing will also be increased. The province is looking for six million rapid-testing kits to send home for parents with unvaccinated children. The testing program will be aimed at kindergarten to Grade 6 schools experiencing outbreaks. Tests will start to be handed out in late October and will initially go to schools with 10 or more cases.
The moves follow rising numbers of COVID-19 cases among children between five and 11 years old. Children in that age group are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
Senior school division administrators were in on a conference call with Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and a government deputy minister on Wednesday to get more information on how rapid testing will be overseen.
Red Deer Public Schools spokesman Bruce Buruma said school administrators were asked for their input and were given an opportunity to ask questions about the rollout.
“We actually don’t have the full details on how that will move forward,” he said, adding that school divisions are expected to get more information next week.
One of the elements of the new government policy will be more public reporting of cases.
“We’d actually already initiated a dashboard ourselves so this will complement what we have already done.”
School divisions will also be getting an update on how the latest contact tracing will be different than what had happened earlier.
“Last year, when there were close contacts entire classrooms were moved to at-home learning. They’re not going to those same levels as they did last year.”
Chinook’s Edge School Division superintendent Kurt Sacher agreed there were more questions than answers at this stage but he expects to have a much clearer idea on how contact tracing, reporting and other measures will be handled at the school level next week.
“(Even) when Alberta Health supports the model it is still fairly labour intensive for some of our schools,” said Sacher.
“We’re just a little concerned with finding out what all of the logistics are so we can support our people. We also want to look and see if there are any resources to put in place to support our people.
“We understand where the government is trying to go and we just want to do our part and support safety in our schools.”
Alberta Health undertook contact tracing last time with support from the school division. It is expected health officials will be in charge of contact tracing with schools helping out again.
“We don’t have the resources to conduct contact tracing on our own independently but it did sound like Alberta Health was going to provide some of the key information we’ve been lacking and there should be some clarity around processes.
“We’ll wait and see and do what is reasonable to support the process.”
The Alberta Medical Association said on Thursday it is “relieved” that public reporting and contact tracing is being resumed but said more needs to be done.
“We’re very grateful they have taken these steps, but additional steps should be taken to protect all children.
“If there is to be an accommodation to mandatory vaccination in children, this should be accompanied by other measures such as frequent testing of unvaccinated students.”