No plans for school restrictions as COVID-19 case count hits 2021 high

‘While case numbers are certainly concerning, we’re not seeing that same extremely high peak,’ said Hinshaw

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Despite rising COVID-19 case numbers, the province doesn’t plan on imposing virtual schooling following upcoming spring break, Alberta’s top doctor said Thursday.

On Thursday, the province reported 764 new infections, the largest number since Jan. 14, though those came from a relatively large number of tests — more than 14,000.

And while those numbers climb, along with new variant cases that numbered 191, there won’t be any change in course in the province’s schools for now, said Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

While mounting numbers are a concern, particularly in more contagious variants that now make up 20.5 per cent of all active cases, they’re not at the level at the end of December that led to virtual instruction following the Christmas break, she said.

“While case numbers are certainly concerning, we’re not seeing that same extremely high peak,” said Hinshaw.

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She noted that in mid-December, new daily case numbers spiked to nearly 1,900, though they’d fallen to around 1,200 when classes resumed online.

“Precautions in place in schools mitigate the chances for the virus to spread, so while there is some transmission we’re not seeing large outbreaks,” she said.

“Schools themselves aren’t seen to be a significant issue, but what we all need to do is minimize community transmission to keep schools safe.”

Due to recent outbreaks, a few Calgary high schools temporarily pivoted to online instruction.

On Wednesday, Hinshaw said there has been some spread of COVID-19 variants in schools but that it hasn’t affected the risk of wider transmission there.

But that same day, she said if the current trend continues in case numbers, infection growth rates, hospitalizations and test positivity, tighter public health restrictions throughout the community are possible.

Three more COVID-19-related fatalities were also recorded, pushing the total toll to 1,976.

Hospitalizations continued to creep up Thursday, reaching 294, with 55 of those in intensive care.

Given that, the provincial government needs to come clean on what would prompt tighter restrictions throughout the community so those affected can be prepared, said NDP health critic David Shepherd.

“We are a year into this pandemic and staring down a third wave, but there are still no clear answers from the government on what the plan is for schools, for restaurants, for small businesses and what would trigger the reintroduction of previous public health restrictions,” he said.

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Health Critic David Shepherd on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021 in Edmonton.
Health Critic David Shepherd on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021 in Edmonton. Photo by Greg Southam/Postmedia

Hinshaw said there’s no one factor or crossed line that would force a change in restrictions, but a combination of rising case numbers, test positivity, growth rate, variant numbers and hospitalizations.

“There’s no single metric that will tell us when we need to implement something,” she said.

“We need to be looking at the trends . . . we need to look at that whole package to get the whole picture.”

Meanwhile, the B.C. government has announced stiff hikes in fines for violating public health restrictions, increasing the penalty for attending a non-compliant gathering from $230 to $575.

“Over the last several months, it’s become clear that for some, the risk of a $230 violation ticket isn’t enough to deter attendance at events that violate the PHO order,” Mike Farnworth, B.C. minister of public safety and solicitor general said in a statement Thursday.

“I am disappointed that a small minority of British Columbians continue to put their health and the health of others at risk by attending unsafe gatherings. This selfish behaviour needs to stop, and police and provincial enforcement authorities will be able to issue these new fines immediately.”

Hinshaw said she wasn’t aware of that change but said nothing similar is in the works in Alberta, though she has voiced concern about non-compliance driven by “COVID-19 fatigue.”

“It’s really important to remember while there have been some high-profile examples of individuals or organizations not following public health measures, the vast majority of Albertans continue to put their community and neighbours first,” she said.

“We’ll have to look at a multitude of options to determine what would be most successful in bringing the most people along with us to protect our communities together.”

Late last year, Calgary city council increased the fine for failing to wear a mask from the original amount of $50 to $100.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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