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Government’s school outbreak list causes confusion, says associate superintendent

Following two different sets of criteria, parents and staff are finding that school alerts are differing between the Government of Alberta’s website and the school division’s reporting.
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The province's school status and outbreak list uses different criteria than what Alberta Health Service's Communicable Disease Control team uses to inform school boards.

BONNYVILLE – Confusion has been mounting as parents, staff and media have been receiving differing information when it comes to COVID outbreak and alert statuses for area schools, Associate Superintendent Bill Driedger told the board of trustees at the Northern Lights Public School (NLPS) division’s regular meeting held on Nov. 30. 

So far, three Lakeland area schools within the NLPS division have reported COVID-19 outbreaks since September. 

“The Government of Alberta website that is called COVID-19 School status... On this website, of course, you'll find the alert statuses for schools, a 2-4 alert, a 5-9 alert, or the outbreak which is 10 plus (cases of COVID-19). The interesting part is the criteria for the outbreak status on the website does not match the criteria that we have from the CDC (Communicable Disease Control) school team.” 

The CDC is a branch of Alberta Health Services (AHS) that sends updates and communicates with school boards informing them of COVID cases that had been infectious while in school.  

When explaining the criteria the CDC school team uses, Driedger said the definition of an outbreak in the AHS documents is that a school is considered an outbreak at 10 cases and then remains in outbreak status until at least 14 days has passed without another case of COVID being reported that was infectious while at school. 

“The website operates on a different metric altogether,” said Driedger.   

On the government’s website it states, “During this transitional period, the school list below only includes outbreaks in schools that have had 10 or more cases who were infectious in school in the past 14 days.” 

Under these criteria, a school could be on the outbreak list one day because it had 10 cases in 14 days and removed the next day because one of those case is no longer considered active or within a two-week period. 

“The website does not match what is happening in our schools and if you were to go to (the province’s) website, as of today, you would see that one of our schools is in an outbreak. And we in fact do have two schools that are in outbreak,” Driedger explained to trustee members. 

Based on information the school division received from AHS, as of Nov. 30th, Cold Lake Elementary and Nelson Heights Middle School are currently on outbreak. North Star Elementary was removed on Nov. 25.  

Cold Lake Elementary has been in outbreak since Nov. 10 and has had additional COVID cases reported at the school since then. Nelson Heights has been in outbreak since Nov. 15 and also had additional cases reported since that date. 

“And so, you can only imagine the confusion that that causes on occasion,” he said. “We take our direction regarding outbreak status, alerts status, those pieces directly from the CDC school team, they communicate with us, we then share those communications on.” 

Driedger told trustees, “I have expressed my concern about the fact that there's two different criteria because it causes great confusion. Now of course, AHS are not the ones who are running this Government of Alberta website and so that may be what it is.” 

He continued, “I'm bringing this to your attention just in case either you go to the website and you're saying this is not aligning with what you've been told, or if you have conversations with staff or parents.”  

To provide further clarity, Nicole Garner, the communication officer for NLPS, told Lakeland This Week, “(The CDC) are also the ones we contact for guidance related to COVID cases, outbreaks, exclusions and rapid testing kits. With outbreaks, we also deal with our Zone Medical Officer of Health who is the one that calls the schools and provides them with recommendations, and who ultimately lifts the outbreak (status).” 

According to the Government of Alberta’s website, as of Dec. 3, Cold Lake Elementary School has been moved from outbreak status to a 5-9 case alert. Nelson Heights remains on a 2-4 alert.  

Some ‘good news’ 

“There are fewer cases in in schools while infectious, that count has been going down slowly,” said Driedger. 

“On occasion, there's a day that goes by where I actually don't receive an email from Alberta Health Services, which means that we didn't have anybody in school that was positive previously... So that is starting to improve somewhat.” 

It was also noted, since the last NLPS board of trustee meeting on Nov. 10, no classes had been switched to at-home learning or faced additional exclusions.  

Exclusions can be implemented when 3 or more COVID-19 cases, from kindergarten to Grade 6 only, who attended school while infectious are identified in one class within a five-day period. The class will shift to at-home learning for 10 days with the school authority’s discretion, states the province’s website. 

LCSD provides daily updates 

In a statement to Lakeland This Week, Chantel Axani Deputy Superintendent of Lakeland Catholic School Division (LCSD) said, “Lakeland Catholic Schools report all confirmed COVID-19 cases to our parents, families, and stakeholders as this information is provided from Alberta Health Services.” 

Axani explains that current numbers of COVD cases that were infectious while at school can be found on each individual LCSD school website.  

“This information is updated daily and as cases are reported to us by AHS,” she added. 

Based on LCSD school reporting, as of Dec. 2, Holy Cross Elementary had seven cases of COVID cases at school while infectious over the last 14 days. Assumption Junior/Senior High School had three cases. These numbers align with alert statuses listed on the province’s website.  

St. Paul

"We have also seen discrepancies," said St. Paul Education superintendent Glen Brodziak, speaking to the differences seen on the website and what is being reported by the school division. 

"As far as current status, St. Paul Elementary is nearing the end of its outbreak status. Division-wide we have had only two cases reported to us in the last week," said Brodziak, Friday.

Jazmin Tremblay

About the Author: Jazmin Tremblay

Jazmin completed a minor in journalism at Hanze University in the Netherlands and completed her Communication Studies degree from MacEwan University with a major in journalism.
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