Editor's note: Updated to include comments from Alberta Ministry of Health.
ATHABASCA - Twenty positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported at Edwin Parr Composite School in Athabasca since Wednesday.
What started as one reported case on March 24, grew to two before the end of the day, and now, as of Sunday morning March 28, Aspen View Public Schools has confirmed 20 total cases along with more than 400 close contacts that have been directed to stay home — 371 students and 35 staff from EPC, along with 23 students from Landing Trail Intermediate School and 13 from Whispering Hills Primary School who were determined to be close contacts through student transportation. Two bus drivers are also included as close contacts.
“The rapid escalation in COVID-19 cases associated with EPC is extremely concerning,” said Supt. Neil O’Shea in a media release received Sunday morning. “Aspen View administration and the leadership teams at all three Athabasca schools have communicated with school families and staff as quickly and efficiently as possible. We are in regular communication with Alberta Health Services as this situation evolves. We are also working with Alberta Education regarding education options following Spring Break.”
Communications officer Ross Hunter said Sunday morning, the division is currently unaware if any of the new cases include the B.1.1.7 UK variant of COVID-19, as the school division does not receive that information from Alberta Health Services.
The Advocate also reached out to AHS communications Sunday morning and was forwarded to Alberta Health. Tom McMillan, assistant director, communications for the health ministry, said variant numbers are not broken down by municipality, but are available by zone. In the North Zone, which essentially covers everything north of Edmonton, currently has 106 active UK Variant cases. That tally will be updated Sunday afternoon, he said, while school numbers and outbreaks will be updated on the next school day.
"COVID-19 is still here and very much a threat. When cases rise in the community, we see cases rise in younger people too. We have seen increasing cases in most age groups recently, including among Albertans age 5-19," McMillan said in an e-mail. "That’s why we all must do our part to keep COVID-19 out of schools. This includes making safe choices outside of school, during the hours before and after class. These are just as important."
With the next week off for Spring Break, officials have a little bit of time to decide on their next move, including a potential closure of the school, but that particular decision is in the hands of Alberta Education, said Hunter.
"It does require approval of Alberta Education. So, I believe that there's a scope of things that we can do exclusively as Aspen View and then there's things that need to happen, that need to be signed off at the Alberta Education level," he said. "Any plans we would want to enact, given the scope of this at EPC, Alberta Education would need to approve it."
These are the first new school cases in Athabasca since January, when one case was detected in an individual tied to the Centre for Alternative & Virtual Education (CAVE), which was followed by another case a week later in an individual connected to Landing Trail Intermediate School.
Aspen View reminds parents and guardians, as well as staff, to monitor for any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. The Alberta Health daily checklist can be found here. The school division asks the checklist be completed each day prior to attending school.
If any of the core symptoms listed on the Alberta Health daily checklist are observed, it is advised to keep your child at home and fill out the online Alberta Health Services COVID-19 self-assessment or call Health Link at 811.
Updates will be provided as more information becomes available.