Division News Article

Update: COVID-19 cases in schools

October 26th, 2020

Over the last week, some of our schools have been informed of confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

Collaboration with Alberta Health Services (AHS)

Division leaders and school administrators have been working with Alberta Health Services to identify close contacts. Given the volume of cases in Alberta, AHS resources are stretched thin and there can be a delay of several days between a positive test result and school notification.

Confirmation of positive cases

In most of the cases we’ve experienced so far, the parents of the students have contacted their schools with the news of their child’s confirmed positive test. This has been very helpful. Schools have been able to collect the contact tracing information before getting the requests from AHS. Receiving the confirmations from parents has helped schools to respond as required without delay.

Notifying families of close contacts

As soon as schools are able to, they will inform the parents when their child is likely a “Close Contact”. These families will receive instructions from their principals about isolation requirements. These families will also be contacted by AHS workers who confirm the requirements of isolation. After contacting families of students who are considered Close Contacts we send an email message to the entire population of the school to tell them that a case has been identified and that the contact tracing process has begun.

Of course, staff members who are identified as Close Contacts are also required to begin their isolation.

AHS confirms the dates for isolation and safe return

When AHS contacts the school, the principal will provide a list of the close contacts; most of whom by then have already been notified by the school and are isolating as per instructions. AHS will follow up with all Close Contacts. AHS also informs the principal of the dates of exposure and from that determines when the isolation can be lifted.

Frequently asked questions

How does the school determine contact tracing lists?

  • Principals use their class lists, schedules and sign in sheets to identify Close Contacts
  • If the student rides the bus, principals request the bus seating plan from Transportation
  • Close Contacts in schools are defined by AHS as follows:
    • The entire classroom is considered to be close contacts of the case and all individuals must be quarantined for 14 days from last contact with the case.
    • Generally, all individuals who share a classroom with the case for more than 15 minutes are considered close contacts and will be required to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of mask use.
    • Any individuals who shared food or drink with the case would be considered a close contact.
    • Any individuals who were within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes would be considered close contacts, regardless of mask use.
    • Any individuals who had close physical contact, such as hugging, would be considered close contacts, regardless of mask use.
    • Any individuals seated in the 2 rows in front of, behind, or beside the positive case on a school bus.

What information is shared with the families of Close Contacts?

  • Principals and AHS will never share the names of the individuals who have tested positive beyond internal staff who need to know
  • They explain that someone in the child’s cohort (or class) has tested positive and as per the health measures, close contacts must be informed and begin isolation
  • Families are given a specific date when their child can return to school

Do students in isolation still do their classes?
Yes, while it will require some adjustment, students can continue to learn from home while they are isolated. Their teachers are probably isolated too. Many classes use Google Classroom and the teachers can continue to provide assignments. They can also connect with students by Google Meet, email, or phone. In younger grades, teachers may send home print packages.

Why are extracurricular activities cancelled this week?
Events are cancelled this week out of caution. Most teams are made up of students who belong to different class cohorts. We have cancelled events to minimize additional contacts resulting from the extra cohort.

How many cases have there been in Pembina Hills schools?

  • RF Staples Secondary School in Westlock has 7 active cases
    • Several class groups and staff have been identified as close contacts and are isolating
  • Westlock Elementary School has 2 active cases
    • Several class groups and staff have been identified as close contacts and are isolating
  • Eleanor Hall School in Clyde has 1 active case
    • One class group and a few staff have been identified as close contacts and are isolating
  • Barrhead Composite High School had one case, which has now been resolved
    • The isolation requirement for close contacts has been lifted
    • Students can already return to classes

As far as we know, all of the individuals have tested positive are recovering from their symptoms.

Are classrooms cleaned differently when there is confirmed exposure?

  • Enhanced cleaning occurs three times per day
    • Before and after lunch, high-touch areas are disinfected by custodial staff (bathrooms, light switches, door knobs, etc)
    • After all the students have left for the day, a thorough cleaning of the whole school occurs
      • All surfaces are disinfected using a recommended product called EP-50
      • Disinfectant foggers are used where there are soft or irregular surfaces (cloth chairs, books, equipment, low pile carpet)
      • Caretakers keep a log
      • The four schools inspected by Occupational Health and Safety met or exceeded cleaning standards (as well as other COVID-19 safety and procedural standards).

What can parents and students do to help?

  • Remain diligent with all the health measures
  • Limit the number of cohorts with whom your family interacts
  • Inform the school as soon as you can if you or your children test positive
  • Remind your children to not share food, drink, utensils, vapes, supplies, etc.

SchoolMessenger

Pembina Hills uses SchoolMessenger to create and send messages to parents via phone, text message and email. This system can be used to communicate to parents quickly and efficiently about emergencies, important updates and general notices.

  • Schools will continue to send a general school notice to all families when there is a confirmed case at their child’s school.
  • Parents of ‘Close Contacts’ will receive direct communication from their child’s school.
  • If the school needs to contact a large number of ‘Close Contact’ parents quickly, they may use SchoolMessenger to help speed up the notification process by sending out emails, text messages or phone calls.

We encourage parents to sign up for text messaging through SchoolMessenger:

  • OPT-IN by texting Y to 978338
  • Please ensure your child’s school has your cell phone number on file
  • Parents can OPT-OUT at any time