Students across Alberta received what many probably considered a late Christmas present on Dec. 30, when Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced that schools' reopening would be postponed until Jan. 10 in light of a continued spike in COVID-19 cases across the province.
While students may have rejoiced at the week-long extension of their winter break, the same probably couldn't be said for their parents, who had to scramble to find child-care solutions.
Despite being inconvenient for many families, keeping schools closed was certainly the right call as the Alberta government and health officials continued to assess the consequences of this current fifth wave of the pandemic. Driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the fifth wave has already seen record-breaking case counts.
The current spike has led to staffing shortages in the health-care sector and other industries, as so many workers have had to self-isolate after either contracting COVID-19 or coming into close contact with someone infected with the virus.
Fortunately, despite being more contagious than other strains of COVID-19, Omicron doesn't appear to result in as severe of symptoms as the Delta variant, which drove the fourth wave of the pandemic and swamped Alberta's hospitals with COVID patients. In other parts of the world where Omicron has run rampant, such as South Africa, the virus appeared to spread like wildfire for four weeks but then plateau and burn out as quickly as it started, without too significant an impact on hospital capacities.
However, hospital rates have already increased dramatically in other provinces, particularly Ontario and Quebec. Ontario Premier Doug Ford even announced the reinstatement of many lockdown protocols during a Jan. 4 press conference. Now in Alberta, hospitalizations are starting to climb again. Considering hospitalization rates are known as a "lagging indicator," it's hard to tell if the current spike in cases will result in a spike in a dramatic spike in hospitalizations in Alberta.