All Alberta teachers, school staff should be tested for COVID-19, top doctor says

All teachers and school staff across the province should be tested before schools reopen to students in about three weeks, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday.

Province has reported 11,893 cases since early March

The province reported 121 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. (Art Raham/CBC)

All teachers and school staff across Alberta should be tested for COVID-19 before schools reopen to students in about three weeks, the province's top doctor says.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, encouraged about 90,000 teachers and school staff to make arrangements to be voluntarily tested at least once before classes resume and regularly throughout the school year.

"In addition to the most critical testing of anyone with symptoms, I am recommending that all teachers and school-based staff should get tested once before school begins in September, and regularly throughout the year," Hinshaw said Wednesday at a news conference.

"This is entirely voluntary. However, asymptomatic testing of staff in school settings will help us with a baseline understanding for school re-entry and ultimately help us even more closely monitor the virus in the coming year."

Hinshaw said her recommendation comes with a caveat: given there are about 90,000 school staff and teachers across Alberta, the province's testing capacity would not be able to collect and process that many tests all at once.

"I am asking teachers and educational staff to arrange testing proactively," she said. "Do not wait until the day before you are set to return to school."

More information will be shared through school superintendents in coming days, she said.

To ensure the system has capacity, Hinshaw asked people who aren't sick and have no known exposure to COVID-19 to delay their tests until after Sept. 1.

She recommended that children be tested if they have symptoms or pre-existing medical conditions that have symptoms similar to COVID-19.

"This is because, in students, our priority is to make testing available to all those with ongoing mild symptoms that may mimic COVID-19, such as allergies," she said.

Parents should book all tests through Alberta Health Services, not at participating pharmacies, because those tests are for people with no symptoms and no exposure.

"Having a test done before school to ensure these unchanged symptoms are not a sign of COVID-19 helps as a baseline for parents to monitor from as their children go back to school," Hinshaw said.

All parents should monitor children for new symptoms, she said, as part of their daily routine.

Active cases rise

The province reported one more COVID-19 death on Wednesday and 121 new cases of the illness.

The latest update released by Alberta Health counted 1,044 active cases in the province, up 40 from the day before.

The most recent death was a resident at Edmonton's Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre, bringing the facility's total to 29.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta has, for the most part, been slowly declining over the past two weeks, according to data collected by Alberta Health.

Here's a daily breakdown of the total active cases:

  • July 28, 1,404 active cases.
  • July 29, 1,389 active cases.
  • July 30, 1,365 active cases.
  • July 31, 1,312 active cases.
  • Aug. 1, 1,269 active cases.
  • Aug. 2, 1,284 active cases.
  • Aug. 3, 1,183 active cases.
  • Aug. 4, 1,142 active cases.
  • Aug. 5, 1,107 active cases.
  • Aug. 6, 1,126 active cases.
  • Aug. 7, 1,067 active cases.
  • Aug. 8, 1,095 active cases.
  • Aug. 9, 1,094 active cases.
  • Aug. 10, 1,004 active cases.
  • Aug. 11, 1,044 active cases.

The regional breakdown of active cases on Wednesday was:

  • Edmonton zone: 470.
  • Calgary zone: 312.
  • North zone: 111.
  • Central zone: 92.
  • South zone: 55.
  • Unknown: Four.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic in early March, the province has confirmed 11,893 cases of the illness.

As of Wednesday, 217 people had died and 10,632 had recovered.

In all, 785,361 tests have been completed.

1 in 7 Albertans tested

Hinshaw said testing is a powerful tool that helps the province limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect people from infection.

"One in seven Albertans have now been tested at least once, and that is a significant accomplishment for our province," she said. "Our labs have come a long way since COVID-19 was first diagnosed in Alberta. We have consistently had the most open testing approach in Canada."

Labs in the province have conducted more than 316,000 surveillance tests on people who had no symptoms and were not part of an outbreak or in close contact with someone who had COVID-19, she said.

Just 0.1 per cent of those tests came back positive, meaning that 99.9 per cent of asymptomatic tests were negative.

"This is encouraging," Hinshaw said. "This shows that broad asymptomatic testing is not primarily useful in identifying a significant number of new cases. However, it can help us track the spread of the virus in Alberta, which aids our public health response."