Alberta resumes COVID-19 contact tracing in schools, offers rapid testing

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The Alberta government is reinstating COVID-19 contact tracing in schools.

Premier Jason Kenney says that COVID-19 remains a serious threat in the province and cases are growing in children between five and 11 years old.

Public reporting of schools with outbreaks is to start again Wednesday. Contact tracing is to resume next Tuesday, when students return to classes after the Thanksgiving long weekend.

"By protecting our young people we will help to reduce the spread of COVID in our schools and further into our communities," the premier said Tuesday.

He also said rapid testing will be increased. The province is asking for six million rapid-testing kits to send home for parents with unvaccinated children.

“We’ll start with schools that are experiencing outbreaks and are in unvaccinated areas and we’ll build from there," Kenney said.

He added that school divisions will be encouraged to adopt mandatory vaccination policies for staff.

Kenney and the United Conservative government had been facing mounting pressure from parents, teachers and the Opposition NDP to reinstate contact tracing in schools.

An advocacy group called Support Our Students says at least 10 per cent of elementary and secondary schools have active outbreaks.

The group has been tracking infections in schools since September. That's when the province ended contact tracing and lifted a requirement for students to isolate after close contact with a positive case.

Earlier Tuesday, Edmonton Public Schools passed a motion to request that the Alberta government close all schools for two weeks as part of a "firebreak" lockdown.

"It's a plea for help, ultimately," said the school board's chairwoman, Trisha Estabrooks.

"No one wants to be in this situation. I would argue if the measures of notification, of contact tracing and quarantining close contacts (were put in place), I highly doubt we would be in this situation. It didn't have to be this way."

The NDP Opposition urged the premier to use the military to do contact tracing in schools. Eight critical care nurses with the Canadian Armed Forces are to help Alberta hospitals that have been overwhelmed with COVID-19.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said many military members who don't have clinical backgrounds could be trained to contact trace.

On Monday, Edmonton Public Schools announced that all employees will have to be fully vaccinated or provide regular negative tests. Edmonton Catholic Schools followed suit on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig and Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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