Editor's note: Updated throughout
Given the possibility of community spread, the Alberta government is cancelling all K-12 school classes and daycares until further notice.
"We will be indefinitely cancelling classes across the province. Students are expected to stay home. We are all in this together, and everyone agrees this is the right decision," said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on March 15.
Schools themselves will remain open.
School authorities are expected to continue their day-to-day operations, with the expectation for school maintenance and administrative work to continue.
"We expect every student to receive a final mark, and students will progress to the next grade level next year. However, provincial assessments, such as provincial achievement tests, will be cancelled at this time," LaGrange said.
"Diploma exams essential for post-secondary acceptance will continue. We are confident that every student who is eligible to graduate from Grade 12 this year will graduate."
Cancelling classes was one of a number of measures the government announced Sunday. Other measures include closing all licensed child care facilities, out-of-school care programs and preschool programs indefinitely; restricting mass gatherings at places of worship; cancelling post-secondary classes; and advising long-term and continuing care facilities to limit visitation to essential visitors only.
Conversations with Alberta Health and key education stakeholders found limiting possible transmission while keeping classes open would be difficult to maintain, including social distancing measures and adequate sanitizing supplies, according to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health.
"I know that many parents, child care workers and teachers will have a lot of questions. This decision was made a few hours ago, so many details are being confirmed."
Hinshaw said these decisions are not made lightly.
"I know they will have a tremendous impact on Albertans’ day-to-day lives, particularly parents, children and seniors. But it is crucial we do everything possible to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19,” Hinshaw said.
There are 17 new cases in Alberta, bringing the total number of people sick with COVID-19 to 56. Three of the new cases are in the Edmonton zone and 14 are in the Calgary zone.
Two individuals are receiving treatment in hospital. All other individuals are recovering in isolation at home.
Investigations have determined seven of the new cases stemmed from a gathering in the Calgary zone. At this time, two of the cases may have been acquired through community-transmission.
Up until Friday, all cases were considered to be travel-related.
Hinshaw said the province is looking to see how to expand their current lab capacity to account for community spread, however there is limited capacity. Approximately 1,000 tests are run a day, and results typically get back within four days.
"We simply do not have the capacity to test all Albertans with a cough," she said. "You don't need a lab test to stay home if you're sick."
Premier Jason Kenney announced $500 million of additional funding to measures around COVID-19, including actions to ensure “front-line health professionals have the tools they need for testing, surveillance and treatment of patients as the province works to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Kenney reiterated that it is "critical" for travellers coming from outside of Canada to self-isolate, and for Albertans to cancel all non-essential travel. Albertans who leave the country for spring break, for example, may have difficulty getting back in, he said.
With Sunday's update, there are now 40 cases in the Calgary zone, 15 in the Edmonton zone, and one in the Central zone.