Calgary

AHS apologizes for 'incorrect' letter saying it had stopped contact tracing in Lethbridge schools

The Lethbridge School Division said Tuesday it had received a notice from Alberta Health Services that health workers would no longer directly contact all close contacts of COVID-19 cases in schools. But on Wednesday, AHS apologized and said that letter was incorrect — close contacts will be notified, just by email, not by phone. 

Lethbridge now has the highest active case rate of any major city in Alberta

Alberta Health Services has apologized for an incorrect letter that said it would no longer be contacting each close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case in Lethbridge classrooms due to an 'overwhelming surge' of new cases. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Lethbridge School Division said Tuesday it had received a notice from Alberta Health Services that health workers would no longer directly contact all close contacts of COVID-19 cases in schools.

But on Wednesday, AHS apologized and said that letter was incorrect — close contacts will be notified, just by email, not by phone. 

"Due to the overwhelming surge of school-related cases in the area, our AHS public health team has made the decision to move into our next phase of business continuity and capacity for the COVID contact tracing team," read the AHS notice, posted to the school division's website on Tuesday. 

"This means that, unfortunately, AHS will not be able to contact all of the individuals on the class lists (including school staff) for close contacts in the affected classrooms."

The notice was edited later in the evening to remove the word "overwhelming," and then on Wednesday deleted from the school district's website.

An AHS spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the letter, sent on Oct. 16, has led to confusion for students, parents and school divisions. 

"It was inaccurate, and we apologize for that," the statement read.

"Contact tracing is still being conducted by AHS in South Zone for all COVID-19 close contacts including school-related. Claims that AHS is not doing that are inaccurate. All close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases are being notified by AHS."

AHS said if a positive case was at school while infectious, health officials will aim to contact the superintendent and school administration as soon as possible and within 48 hours of the test result. The notifications will be sent out by email instead of individual phone calls in the interest of speed, AHS said.

The spokesperson said AHS is in the process of sending updated information to the Lethbridge School District. 

The now-deleted notice had said that instead of contacting close contacts in the classroom, public health officials would aim to contact out-of-classroom close contacts, like those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 through carpooling, in the lunchroom or on the bus. 

As cases have continued to rise in Alberta, experts have raised red flags about the province's ability to contact trace — the process of identifying, notifying and tracking the spread of the virus from individual to individual.

The province currently has its highest active cases at 3,203, and approximately 41 per cent of cases have an unknown source. 

Lethbridge now has the highest rate of active COVID-19 cases of major cities in Alberta, with 143.5 active cases per 100,000 people. 

There are four outbreaks at schools in the city, and nine outbreaks in the city and surrounding area at businesses and long-term care homes.

Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips wrote on Twitter that her child's classroom received a letter from AHS notifying him that he was a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, but that was the last she had heard from AHS until a letter Tuesday that confirmed the date he can end his self-isolation.

"My kid's test results also never came. The school has been amazing. [Alberta Health] less so," she wrote. 

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