Alberta public health measures set to expire on Monday will remain in place for another six weeks, while newly announced back-to-school guidelines don’t mandate in-class masks but will include school-based vaccinations, Alberta’s top public health doctor announced Friday.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, also announced that mandatory isolation for 10 days for those with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result will also continue until Sept. 27.
“We are not going backwards. We are pausing to monitor and assess before taking a next step forward,” she said.
“Having said that, I am sorry that the way that I have communicated about these changes, and the rapid pace of them, has caused distress.”
Hospitalizations, pediatric cases cause for concern
In explaining the decision to defer changes originally scheduled for Monday, Hinshaw cited two concerns: non-ICU hospitalizations that are trending higher than anticipated, and emerging evidence from the U.S. about pediatric cases with the delta variant.
Hinshaw said the direction on contact tracing that came into effect July 29 — that close contacts will no longer be notified, except for high-risk settings such as continuing care facilities — has not been reversed.
Measures that will remain in place until Sept. 27 include:
- Mandatory masking orders in publicly accessible transit, taxis and ride-shares. This includes school buses.
- Mandatory isolation for 10 days for those with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result
- Testing at assessment centres for any symptomatic individual
Hinshaw announced Friday that masking will not be required provincially in school settings, but she said school officials have the authority to put in local measures — such as physical distancing, cohorting and mandatory masking — if those decisions are right for them and their communities.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said that at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, those measures are “best left” to local authorities to decide for themselves.
“Thanks to the power of vaccines and the dedication of Albertans, parents, students and school staff can look forward to a normal school year this September, which includes a return to in-person classes, field trips, team sports, extracurricular clubs, school celebrations and reconnecting with friends and colleagues,” LaGrange said.
“I am very much looking forward to a normal school experience this fall and I know there are many, many Alberta parents and students who are also looking forward to it.”
Starting Sept. 7, temporary COVID-19 vaccine clinics will be set up in schools for students in grades 7 to 12 and for teachers and staff.
If an outbreak happens in a school, Alberta Health Services may recommend masking and additional measures to manage an outbreak, according to a government news release.
The government has created both an online parent tool-kit as well as a guide for school boards on managing respiratory illnesses in schools.
Edmonton Catholic and public school boards wrote to LaGrange and Health Minister Tyler Shandro this week, seeking the authority to mandate masks in schools and require people sick with COVID-19 to isolate.
The letter, made public Thursday, cited the prevalence of the delta variant of the coronavirus, Canada entering a fourth wave of disease and vaccination rates that are short of what is needed for herd immunity.
New cases of COVID-19 this week have reached the highest level since late May.
Friends of Medicare said the decision to pause changes that were to take effect on Monday was a victory for Albertans.
“A six-week delay to the removal of the most basic public health measures will allow our health-care system time to plan for and respond to the concerning rise in COVID-19 numbers that Alberta is currently experiencing,” it said in a news release.
WATCH | A doctor offers his thoughts on Alberta’s latest plan: