2 Calgary students attended schools while infectious with coronavirus variant

Two family members of people who travelled outside of Alberta attended schools in Calgary while infectious with a coronavirus variant, the province's chief medical officer of health says.

There are 57 cases of the variant strains in the province

A laboratory technologist holds a genome cartridge while working to sequence the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in B.C. on Jan. 19. Two students attended class in Calgary while infectious with new strains of coronavirus. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Two family members of people who travelled outside of Alberta attended schools in Calgary while infectious with a coronavirus variant, the province's chief medical officer of health says.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced the first case in a Twitter post late Monday evening, saying there was no evidence to date that anyone else was infected, and that the child's class and staff at risk of being exposed were already in quarantine.

On Tuesday, she announced a second case of a student attending a Calgary school after contracting a strain of coronavirus from a family member who had travelled. 

"Health-care teams have contacted anyone who may have been potentially exposed and offered them the chance to get tested twice to reduce any potential for further onward transmission," Hinshaw said.

Three classes and staff from the two schools are now isolating.

Hinshaw did not say where the children's family members had travelled or which schools were affected, but did say the province is identifying variant cases from those who have travelled to multiple different countries. 

Eight cases with no known link to travel

There are 57 cases of the coronavirus variants first identified in the U.K. (50 cases) and in South Africa (seven cases) in Alberta. Of those, eight cases of the strain first identified in the U.K. in five households have no known link to travel — household spread that resulted in the students attending class while infectious.

That variant has also spread within a daycare in the province — with four cases so far linked to that outbreak. 

"I think it's clear … that there is some transmission in the community that we are starting to pick up. The question of whether or not this is widespread, [it] does not seem to be the case at the moment," Hinshaw said Tuesday.

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The province is testing 300 samples each day for those variants, and is monitoring for other emerging strains. 

"I am concerned about the presence of the variants in our communities … at this point, though, it is not the dominant strain."

Scientists have said the new strains could be as much as 70 per cent more transmissible than the primary strain that has been circulating in Alberta up to this point. England and Ireland have seen the B117 variant spread rapidly throughout their populations.

Longer quarantine for contacts of variant cases

Hinshaw said if those who have contracted one of the variant strains choose to stay home during their isolation period, their household contacts will now have to quarantine for an additional 14 days from the end of their contact's isolation period — a total of 24 days. 

"Given how easily this variant is spreading in homes, this enhancement is necessary to prevent spread in the community," Hinshaw said. 

Craig Jenne, who teaches in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, says contact tracing is critical given how rapidly these variants can spread.

"These are quite concerning developments," he said. 

There are now 726 cases in schools across Alberta, with about 16 per cent of the province's total schools on outbreak. 

With files from Jennifer Lee


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