Alberta identifies first likely case of COVID-19 transmission within school

Alberta identifies first likely case of COVID-19 transmission within school

Alberta has identified its first likely case of COVID-19 transmission within a school, the province's top doctor said Friday.

The second case at Edmonton's Waverley School was likely transmitted from another individual at the school who has tested positive, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference.

Hinshaw said both individuals were infectious within the school and that one of them "seems to have been the source for the other. Although it is difficult to say with 100 per cent certainty where transmission happens, given the facts in this situation, it seems to be a likely situation."

Transmission within a school "was not unexpected and is not a cause for alarm," Hinshaw said.

"However, I know many are anxious about school safety and I felt it was important to share this information with you and to talk about what it means."

Waverley School is a public elementary school in the Kenilworth neighbourhood in southeast Edmonton. Last year it had about 170 students.

Trevor Wilson/CBC
Trevor Wilson/CBC

Edmonton Public Schools said about 12 students from a combined Grade 1/2 class and seven staff members will now isolate at home for 14 days, monitor for symptoms and be tested.

"It was expected. I just didn't expect it to happen maybe so soon. This is the first school for it to happen to in the province and it's my kids' school," said parent Vanessa Kelly.

"We're not even a month in and I want to pull them out now."

School board officials said the school has been thoroughly cleaned and they're confident their back-to-school plan is appropriate for now.

"We knew as we prepared to go back to school that there would be COVID-19 cases at our school," said Nancy Petersen, managing director of strategic district supports with Edmonton Pubic Schools, at a news conference Friday.

"We are simply a microcosm of the broader Edmonton community and right now in Edmonton, we continue to have cases of COVID-19. In fact, we have very high numbers right now so we knew that we would also have cases in our schools."

Jason Franson/Canadian Press
Jason Franson/Canadian Press

Hinshaw said that as of Friday morning, 78 individuals attended school while infectious with COVID-19. She said 57 of Alberta's 2,415 schools have reported having one or more of those infectious cases.

She said that to date, none of the cases that have been reported as being infectious while in a school have been sick enough to require any kind of acute care treatment. "None that I know of have been in hospital or in ICU."

'Shaming and blaming'

Hinshaw said cases of COVID-19 in schools can lead to "shaming and blaming," which in turn causes anxiety for people in the school community.

When two cases at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary earlier this week prompted officials to declare Alberta's first school outbreak, Hinshaw said the school received quite a bit of attention and there were "lots of people implying that people who attended that high school weren't safe to be around or that the school itself was perhaps a bad environment."

Similarly, when St. Wilfrid elementary in Calgary was put under a watch, she said that officials "did still hear reports of the stress and anxiety in parents and students."

Despite Waverley School having the first likely case of in-school transmission in Alberta, the people in the school community "are no different from anyone else," Hinshaw said.

"They're doing the best that they can. This just happens to be the first place where this transmission happened. It doesn't mean the school is bad or wrong, and the people who attend this school should not be treated as if they themselves have done something wrong."

The danger with what she called "this tendency to point fingers" is that people may choose not to get tested or to disclose symptoms.

"If COVID-19 goes underground, and we're not able to understand how it is spreading, it will cause more harm. I really want to advocate for the collective approach to support and encourage each other and when we identify where an error is made, we do our best to address and move forward."

On Friday, the province reported 107 new cases, making 1,424 active cases, and one additional death.

An Alberta Health spokesperson said a woman in her 50s from the North zone is dead. Her death is not linked to any outbreak.

The regional breakdown of active cases is:

  • Edmonton zone: 711

  • Calgary zone: 450

  • North zone: 197

  • South zone: 38

  • Central zone: 24

  • Unknown: 4