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Alberta orders all classes cancelled and daycares closed


March 16, 2020
By Sylvia Strojek/The Canadian Press

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Photo: Samara Heisz/Getty Images

The Alberta government has suspended kindergarten to Grade 12 classes and shuttered all licensed daycares amid concern that COVID-19 is spreading through community transmission in the province.

Chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said two of the most recent cases of COVID-19 are not travel related, and public health officials don’t know how the patients were infected.

“That is why, effective immediately, the emergency management cabinet committee has approved my recommendation that students no longer attend classes in schools and post-secondary institutions until further notice” she said at a media briefing Sunday.

“All regularly scheduled classes are cancelled regardless of class size. We are also asking all licensed child-care facilities and out-of- school care programs to close immediately.”

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Dayhomes are exempt because of the small number of children in such settings.

Cases soar, community transmission happening

Hinshaw said there were 17 additional cases of COVID-19 detected in the past 24 hours, including seven people who appear to have contracted the virus at a gathering in Calgary.

There are now 56 reported cases in Alberta.

The province had initially planned to keep classes running while asking students to keep their distance from one another. Schools had also been given strict guidelines for how to monitor children, what to look for and when to send them home.

‘Extremely disruptive’ for families

Hinshaw said school officials were telling her it would be impossible to follow the required steps and keep classes going, so she decided to make the change in spite of the massive impact.

“I recognize that this is extremely disruptive for many families and for those working in these sectors. This is not a decision that we are making lightly,” she said. “I made this recommendation after extensive discussion with school boards and in consideration of the cases of community transmissions that were identified over the weekend.”

Schools have not closed, however. Teachers and administrators are expected to continue to work — from home if necessary.

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said provincial achievement tests are being cancelled this year, but Grade 12 diploma exams needed to get into university will go ahead. She said details were still being worked out as to how to administer those exams.

“We expect every student to receive a final mark and that students will progress to their next grade level next year,” LaGrange said. “We are confident that every student eligible to graduate from Grade 12 this year will graduate.”

Churches no longer exempt

Alberta is tightening other restrictions in the province as well. Churches had been exempt from a ban on gatherings over 250 people, but Hinshaw said that is no longer the case.

“I know families want to visit their loved ones,” Hinshaw said. “This step is taken to protect the most vulnerable Albertans.”

She encouraged families and friends to find other ways to stay in touch to support their loved ones.

Hinshaw said nothing has changed in how Albertans should conduct themselves. Frequent hand-washing, social distancing and staying home if even mildly ill should still be the “new normal.” Non-essential travel should be cancelled.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who also attended the briefing, said the government is adding $500 million to its $26-billion health-care budget to help fight COVID-19.