THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson “I believe this is the right first step, going back to school,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Thursday. Dr. Deena Hinshaw also further outlined the protocols for returning to classrooms. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Return to school ‘is critical,’ says Hinshaw

108 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta Thursday

Alberta reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, as students get set to head back to classrooms.

In her latest update, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced 108 new cases of the virus in the province, with 1,158 active cases.

In addition, there have been 11,923 recovered cases, with 49 people in hospital and seven in the ICU. Hinshaw also announced two additional deaths, bringing the death toll to 237.

Hinshaw spent the majority of her availability addressing the province’s return-to-school plan, and she was firm in her confidence that sending kids back to school is the right thing to do.

“I believe this is the right first step, going back to school. I think there is no one perfect way to go back to school,” she said.

“I am convinced it is critical to help our children get back into school in person and to work on balancing the risks of COVID, with the risks of all of the other things that our children face – the risks of not being in school, for example.

“I do believe this is the right first step. I believe it’s critical to closely watch, evaluate and monitor the impact of that.”

She outlined protocols for returning to school, including how it will be decided if schools should close or an outbreak will be declared.

Although situations will be monitored on a case-by-case basis, they are defining an outbreak as two or more confirmed cases in staff members or students within a 14-day period, or two or more confirmed cases that are linked to a school setting.

Parents, staff and teachers will be notified of outbreaks at the school that they attend or work at. They will also be informed if there is a confirmed case that is identified in their school, and the confidentiality of that individual will be protected. The school will then outline the next steps for staff, teachers and parents after a case has been identified.

Hinshaw explained that even if there was an outbreak or closure, it doesn’t necessarily mean the return-to-school plan failed.

“It is entirely possible we could have a school that needs to be closed if we see a spread. What I would say is there are hundreds of schools across the province. We need to take this first step, evaluate and monitor,” she said.

“If there is something we need to adjust – whether it’s adjusting in all of the schools or targeted locations, that will be something that is part of the evaluation and feedback process.

“A single outbreak in a school, or a single school that may need to be closed, wouldn’t, in my mind, invalidate this first step.”

In the central zone, there are just 25 active cases, with 542 recovered. There is just one person left in hospital and none in the ICU.

Red Deer is down to six active cases, with 26 recovered. Lacombe County sits at four active cases and Red Deer County has two cases.

The City of Wetaskiwin, Mountainview County, Kneehill County and Starland County all have one active case. Sylvan Lake, Olds, Ponoka and Camrose all have no active cases.

Hinshaw also encouraged parents to go through a health checklist with their kids before they go to school.

Anyone who displays symptoms at a school must be isolated as soon as possible. Anyone who is sick must stay away from others. She also asked families to checkout resources about back to school on the Alberta Health website.

“Whether your family has students returning to school in person or online, this will be the first time any of us has gone back to school in a pandemic,” she said.

“It is natural to feel nervous, excited, anxious or any other emotion we may be feeling right now. One thing that can help in reducing anxiety is information.”

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