Alberta Teachers' Association calls for government support until AHS takes over contact tracing in schools

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Alberta Teachers Association president Jason Schilling, shown here, says contact tracing is an extra, time-consuming task for school staff to juggle during the pandemic. (Trevor Wilson/CBC - image credit)
Alberta Teachers Association president Jason Schilling, shown here, says contact tracing is an extra, time-consuming task for school staff to juggle during the pandemic. (Trevor Wilson/CBC - image credit)

The Alberta Teachers' Association is calling on the province to immediately provide school districts with funding to hire staff who can ease the burden of contract tracing placed on schools for the next several weeks.

Contact tracing is set to resume at Alberta schools Tuesday. But it's going to take about six weeks for Alberta Health Services to take over the task, so the responsibility will fall on individual schools in the meantime.

"We needed this six weeks ago and they need to provide the support to the school, so that they can do what is being asked of them," said association president Jason Schilling.

It's an extra, time-consuming task for school staff to juggle during the pandemic, he said.

"[Contact tracing for each positive case] takes about four to five hours of their time because they need to contact students," he said, citing a recent conversation with a school administrator.

There are 48 schools with COVID-19 outbreaks — 10 or more cases — and 696 others that are on alert, according to Alberta Health's outbreak list.

Schilling says contract tracing in schools never should have ended.

CBE waiting for direction

The Calgary Board of Education says Alberta Health Services is expected to take over the lead on contact notification in schools within the next several weeks.

In the meantime, the CBE will continue notifying when families self-report a confirmed case of COVID-19 to their school.

"We are waiting for further information and direction about the process from the Alberta government and will provide updates to our families and staff as soon as we have the details."

At the news conference on Oct. 5, the provincial government announced new measures to protect children from COVID-19, including school contact tracing, declaration of school outbreaks and rapid-test kits for parents to test younger children.

"We have seen the highest age-specific rates recently in school-aged Albertans," said Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw during the news conference.

Most of the COVID-19 cases reported in the province are unvaccinated adults. But those aged five to 19 make up about a quarter of Alberta's active cases, she said.

The Alberta Teachers' Association, which represents over 43,000 teachers, has union and professional powers.

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