CALGARY — Alberta is delaying the start of in-person learning for kindergarten to Grade 12 students after the province recorded its biggest jump in daily COVID-19 cases.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the winter break will be extended to Jan. 10 because the highly contagious Omicron variant poses additional risk to health and resources.
"School authorities have told us they need more time to prepare and to understand what the evolving COVID situation could mean for their school communities, in terms of staffing and potential operational impacts," LaGrange said during a news conference late Thursday.
"I'm confident that this additional time to plan will position school authorities for a successful startup."
Schools were expected to open early next week prior to the government announcement.
Alberta is following other provinces that have made similar decisions to postpone the start of in-school classes in the new year, including Nova Scotia, Manitoba and British Columbia.
LaGrange said January diploma exams have also been cancelled because the pause will result in learning disruptions for older students.
The Opposition NDP applauded the decision to pause a return to the classroom and cancel exams but said the United Conservatives need to do more to protect students and teachers.
NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman said the government should expand access to personal protective equipment, such as N-95 masks for teachers, and address staffing and ventilation concerns.
She also called for immediate funding to assist families with costs associated with at-home learning or emergency child care.
“Those are just some of the emergency measures we need to give to schools. And to people working inside of them to give them a fighting chance come Jan. 10,” said Hoffman.
LaGrange's announcement came shortly after an estimated 4,000 new COVID-19 infections were identified in Alberta over 24 hours.
For the second day in a row, the province broke its single-day record for COVID-19 cases after 2,775 were logged Wednesday.
Preliminary data released by the Alberta government also shows hospitalizations jumped to 371 from 349, while intensive care admissions dropped slightly.
Firm numbers are expected at a later date.
The unofficial numbers suggest active cases in the province may exceed 20,000 for the first time since October, considering there were 17,396 confirmed cases Wednesday.
Earlier Thursday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said on social media she would be attending a cabinet committee meeting to address growing concerns about the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said attendees would discuss the "latest development and trends" with the mutation and determine how to best protect Albertans. As a result, Thursday's scheduled COVID-19 update with Hinshaw has been moved to Friday.
LaGrange declined to comment on additional public health measures being considered to curb COVID-19 transmission. She said the caucus meeting was ongoing as she addressed Albertans on Thursday evening.
The Omicron variant is driving rising infections across Canada, with other provinces also setting records.
A new study released in Ontario shows that despite the reduced severity of Omicron to result in hospitalization or death, the effects on the health-care system are likely to be significant.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2021
Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press