COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to increase in Alberta as the summer months wane and school creeps around the corner.
Weekly data released on Wednesday showed 870 people were in hospital, an increase of 52 from the week before. On July 23, 625 people were in hospital with COVID.
Intensive care COVID patients also increased by four to 32 this week.
The province added 27 more coronavirus-attributed deaths in the week ending Aug. 23. The pandemic death toll now sits at 4,748.
And the seven-day average positivity rates on PCR tests was effectively flat at 21.9 per cent. PCR tests have been restricted to individuals who live or work in clinical high-risk settings for most of 2022.
Alberta still mulling kids boosters
On Friday, Health Canada approved booster doses for children aged five to 11, with the National Advisory Community on Immunization (NACI) recommending children in that cohort to get vaccinated with a third dose six months after their second “in the context of heightened epidemiological risk.”
On Tuesday, the Alberta government told Global News the province is reviewing Health Canada’s decision and NACI’s recommendation.
“No decisions have been made yet,” a health ministry spokesperson wrote in an email. “Once a decision has been made, the specific details around timing and availability will be shared publicly.”
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According to provincial data, only 37 per cent of kids aged five to 11 completed a primary series of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Alberta. As of Aug. 14, 42.4 per cent of Canadian kids in the same age range have received two doses.
Masks not mandated for return to classes
Classes are likely to look different in Alberta this upcoming school year, after the province dropped its mask mandate in the spring.
“Mask mandates are not under consideration,” Alberta Education spokesperson Katherine Stavropoulos wrote to Global News, adding “the fulsome return to class within a normal education setting is paramount for our children.”
A recent preprint study of the effects of the dropping of in-school mask mandates in and around Boston, Massachusetts showed while the mandates were in place, there was little difference in transmission rates between school districts.
COVID-19 hospitalizations continue monthlong rise in Alberta as universities prepare for fall classes
“However, weekly and cumulative case rates were significantly higher in students and staff in school districts that removed masking requirements, compared to districts that had not yet lifted requirements,” the study said.
Its conclusions were similar to a separate study of mask mandates in a Boston-area university, finding classroom transmission is “negligible” when regular surveillance testing, enhanced air filtration and indoor masking was in place.
Global News contacted Edmonton and Calgary’s public and Catholic school districts on their plans for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses in the upcoming school year.
All said they have followed the education ministry’s guidance to improve ventilation and filtration to meet or exceed American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommendations, including installation of MERV 13 filters, increased maintenance, maximizing fresh air intake and increasing air changes per hour.
Schools will also be emphasizing the importance of handwashing and staying home when sick.
But neither Calgary Board of Education, Edmonton Public Schools, Calgary Catholic School District nor Edmonton Catholic Schools will require masking for staff, students or visitors.
“It is important that individual family choices continue to be respected related to masking and vaccination,” Stavropolous wrote. “No student or staff member should be stigmatized for their choices.”
“A reminder that as of February of last year, Alberta Education told all Alberta School Boards that they were not allowed to bring in mask mandates,” an Edmonton Catholic Schools spokesperson said to Global News in an email.
Arguments for school district decisions
Documents filed as part of an active court case arguing that Alberta school districts be allowed to implement their own mask mandates indicated the province was aware of the efficacy of a mask mandate in Alberta schools.
“School boards without mask mandates had three times more outbreaks in their schools, on average,” a February government briefing package said, adding an Edmonton school outbreak in fall 2021 was illustrative of how “a school outbreak can lead to increased spread within the local community.”
Lawyer Orlagh O’Kelly, arguing the case on behalf of families of children with disabilities, told Global News the Feb. 8 letter from Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was interpreted by school divisions as a prohibition on district-level mask mandates.
Final arguments for the judicial review of the chief medical officer’s order and charter challenge of the minister’s letter took place last week.
O’Kelly said the case was being heard with the hopes of having a decision in time for the start of the school year.
–with files from Lauren Pullen
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