Omicron cases confirmed at U of C, Calgary public and Catholic schools

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Three cases of the new Omicron variant have been confirmed by the Calgary Board of Education.  (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
Three cases of the new Omicron variant have been confirmed by the Calgary Board of Education. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

Confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been reported in three schools run by the Calgary Board of Education and two run by the Calgary Catholic School District, the organizations say.

The University of Calgary has also confirmed a case of the variant.

The CBE cases come a day ahead of winter break, and Christmas holidays with some loosened restrictions, announced earlier this week by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

CBE spokesperson Joanne Anderson said — where possible — rapid tests are offered to students and staff, but with schools closing Friday for winter break that might not be possible.

"There may not be time for delivery and distribution of tests to those who want to take part in this optional program. The province is also making rapid tests available through pharmacies starting on Friday," Anderson said in a statement.

The affected schools have been issued notification letters from Alberta Health Services, she said.

CBC has obtained a letter issued to parents of students at southwest Calgary Elboya School, which said public health staff have identified a case of COVID-19 in a person who attended the school while infectious. This person is confirmed to have the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The Calgary Catholic School District told CBC News on Friday it confirmed two cases of the variant, each from a different school.

CCSD is not be disclosing which schools.

The reported cases come as Omicron cases in the province nearly doubled from 60 to 119 on Thursday, according to figures released by the province.

The University of Calgary issued a letter Thursday, saying the school was made aware that there was a person on campus who has tested positive for the Omicron variant.

No changes are being announced at this time and in-person exams are continuing as previously planned, the letter, signed by Teri Balser, University of Calgary provost and vice-president academic said. If more cases are announced, further action may be possible, the letter said.

Modelling group says variant growth concerning

The Omicron variant is the newest variant of concern and is more transmissible than previous variants.

"This is truly a very different variant than Alpha and Delta were. It's very much more concerning," said Dean Karlen, a University of Victoria physics professor and member of British Columbia's independent COVID-19 modelling group.

Ontario's growth rate of the variant is roughly 30 per cent a day, he said, calling that level of growth "extremely scary."

An Edmonton doctor also pointed to Ontario as a possible sign of things to come.

"I think there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Omicron is clearly more transmissible. And that's really what we're seeing playing out in a variety of countries and in Ontario, where they're seeing this incredible exponential rise with a doubling time of three to four days," said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta.

She said she's worried about the impact the variant could have on the province's hospitals, which were rattled by the fourth wave of the pandemic, and are still recovering from a backlog of surgeries.

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