Alberta Minister of Education not counting on school mask mandate despite early, numerous student absences | – Global News | Team Cansler

Alberta’s Secretary of Education reiterated her government’s line that despite early and high student absences, Albertans should not expect mask requirements in schools.

“We have made it very clear that we do not anticipate a masking mandate,” Adriana LaGrange told an independent news conference on Wednesday, adding that students and staff can make the “personal choice” to wear a mask or respirator.

On Monday Prime Minister Danielle Smith said wearing masks “should be a personal choice” and instead focus on sourcing more over-the-counter medicines to treat diseases rather than preventing the spread of viruses.

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“But we will not mandate masks,” Smith said Monday.

“Obviously we’re in post-pandemic mode,” LaGrange said Wednesday.

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The education minister’s comments came the same day that Dr. Mark Joffe, Alberta’s new interim chief of health, made a statement about the rise in respiratory viruses in Alberta.

“Winter has historically been the peak season for respiratory infections. Like other jurisdictions, Alberta is seeing an early rise in seasonal infections, including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19, and anticipates a tough season,” Joffe said.

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Joffe said most influenza cases in Australia were among children and adolescents, and children under the age of 16 accounted for the majority of influenza hospitalizations. He expected the same to happen in Alberta.

“In recent weeks, there have been increased reports of symptoms such as cough and fever in schools and daycares in Alberta,” Joffe said. “We are closely monitoring the situation in the schools.”

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On Tuesday, Christopher Usih, chief superintendent of the Calgary Board of Education, said more students in Calgary public schools were sicker earlier this year.

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As of November 15, nearly 12 percent of students were absent, up from nearly 9 percent the week before.

“That’s significantly more than we would expect at this time of year,” Usih said at Tuesday’s trustee meeting. “We’re also seeing more and more absences due to illness… The pressure from unfilled positions has increased over the past two weeks. ”

Edmonton public schools recorded an absentee rate of 13.72 percent as of Nov. 10.

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dr Isaac Bogoch answers questions about masks, hospitals and children’s medication

Usih said while trying to hire more substitute teachers and support staff in anticipation of illness, he said more than 270 teaching positions and 100 support staff positions are vacant every day. There are 249 schools in CBE.

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“This is putting significant pressure on some of our schools, which need to make significant changes to how staff and students are organized to ensure learning continues,” Usih said, noting there could be a transition to home learning.

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CBE, Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools spokespersons confirmed none of their classes had to switch to home learning.

However, a spokesman for the Calgary Catholic School District told Global News that classes have gone online.

“Two classrooms temporarily switched to online learning this week due to higher levels of absenteeism and operational challenges,” the CCSD said in an email.

Mask an option

Usih said there are ways to stop the spread of respiratory viruses like influenza, COVID-19 or RSV beyond the changes the school board has made to improve air filtration and circulation where possible.

“We continue to encourage our students and staff to stay home when sick, wash hands and cover coughs and sneezes,” Usih said Tuesday. “Masking is also an available option for any staff member or student who wishes to wear a mask.”

LaGrange said the Department of Education is in constant contact with school departments to make sure they get the support they need to keep kids in class.

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“Nevertheless, it varies greatly across the province, so there is no one-size-fits-all for this situation. I would say we will continue to monitor the situation,” LaGrange said. “Of course we will be guided by the new Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

Joffe offered some advice on masking as part of “daily measures to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses”.

“Wearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask can help reduce the risk of illness and protect others from exposure,” Joffe said.

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Edmonton city officials are also keeping tabs on the city’s respiratory disease situation. However, a mask regulation for transit or in city buildings is not close at hand.

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“The city government has not recently recommended that the city council consider a mask by-law,” the city said in a statement. “People are welcome to wear masks in transit and in city buildings, and since the recent easing of health restrictions, we have encouraged our employees to respect each person’s choice regarding mask wearing.”

In an April amendment to the Local Government Act, local governments must seek approval from the Minister for Local Affairs before issuing new mask or vaccination certificates “that would impact private sector operators”. However, with Rebecca Schulz’s permission, mask requirements could be introduced on city property.

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The City of Calgary said it is not considering applying for that permit.

“The city is carefully monitoring public health advice to ensure the safety of employees and members of the public and will not be making a recommendation to reintroduce a masking mandate at this time,” a statement to Global News said. “We encourage City of Calgary employees to help fight the virus at home and at work by washing their hands regularly, cleaning on the go and supporting the use of face masks as a personal choice. We encourage everyone in Calgary to take personal health measures to limit the spread of respiratory disease.”

Hospitals continue to swell with COVID patients

Alberta added 51 more people to COVID hospitalizations and 44 more people to the pandemic death toll in the most recent weekly reporting period.

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As of November 14, 1,141 COVID-19 hospitalizations were counted across the province, including 40 in the ICU. That’s an increase of 51 or four.

Provincial data shows one new COVID-ICU patient appears to be from each of age groups one through four and five through nine. Eight infants under a year old were added to hospitalizations in the past week, as well as three aged one to four years.

According to AHS information, intensive care units across the province are at 88 percent capacity.

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Two acute care centers in Edmonton and one in Calgary reported COVID outbreaks in the past week.

On Thursday, three patients in a unit at Royal Alexandra Hospital tested positive for COVID-19. And on Tuesday, six patients at Villa Caritas, an acute mental health facility specializing in elderly care, tested positive.

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Four patients in a unit at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary tested positive on Monday.

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