UCP extends timeline for COVID-19 transition, provide back to school information

by Stephen Dafoe

Originally planned to be removed for Aug, 16. the UCP says close monitoring of COVID-19 over the past two weeks and looking at info from other jurisdictions have prompted them to keep some measures in place until Sept. 27. These include mandatory masking orders in publicly accessible transit, taxis and ride-shares, mandatory 10-day isolation for those with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result, and testing at assessment centres for any symptomatic individual.

“It’s important that we move forward with decisions based on the best evidence and appropriate caution. I appreciate Dr. Hinshaw’s advice to allow more time for us to monitor the situation and help ensure a safe reopening, including a safe return to school,” said Minister of Health Tyler Shandro in a media release Friday. “This extra time will help us make a safe transition to living with COVID-19 as we get our communities, our economy, and our health system back to normal.”

Despite being challenged on the original Oct. 16 decision by the Opposition NDP, medical professionals and members of the public, the UCP says recent data from Alberta, as well as other jurisdictions including the U.K. and the U.S. who are at similar vaccine levels, show multiple acute care impacts. That uncertainty, the UCP say, “warrants further caution.” That said, the government believes an admissions peak that would disrupt the provincial health system at remains unlikely.

BACK TO SCHOOL

The Government of Alberta released their  Guidance for Respiratory Illness Prevention and Management in Schools document and a back-to-school tool kit Friday, documents they say will help schools to reduce respiratory illness and infection in schools.

Students and school staff should screen daily for symptoms using the Alberta Health Daily Checklist, and current;y  must isolate if they test positive or have the core COVID-19 symptoms.

The Government has produced a detailed 2021-22 School Year Plan containing two contingency scenarios for continuing student learning should there be a significant change in the fall due to COVID-19.

“Thanks to the power of vaccines, I’m pleased that students can return to a normal school year in September,” said Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange. “The safety of students and staff remains our number one priority, and we have a detailed plan that includes contingency scenarios for continuing student learning if there is a significant change in the COVID-19 situation.

Vaccines will be available to students in Grades 7 to 12 as well as staff through temporary clinics in schools starting Sept. 7. Students, teachers and staff can receive whichever dose they are eligible for in school. Parent or guardian consent for students will be required through consent forms.

Alberta’s NDP Opposition says it’s pleased to see the government offer vaccines to students through their school, something the NDP called for in July. However, they levelled criticism at the UCP back-to-school plan.

“I’m concerned that the Kenney government is simply kicking the can down the road and Alberta may be back in the same absurd position in late September if cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions continue to rise,” said NDP Health Critic David Shepherd. “It appears that public health decisions are still being driven more by the political motives of Jason Kenney than by professional public health advice.”

Shepherd believes teachers and school trustees are now forced to try to be public health experts. Ending Test-Trace-Isolate Sept. 27, one month into the school year will leave boards and parents in the dark.

“It’s bizarre to hear Dr. Hinshaw say she is preserving Test-Trace-Isolate because of emerging evidence of delta variant spread among children, and then hear Adriana LaGrange say the province will do nothing to limit that spread in schools this fall,” Shepherd said.

Publisher’s Note: This article was updated Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. to add NDP commentary on the decision.

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