Alberta parents should weigh all risks in making back-to-school plans, top doctor says

Alberta's plan to reopen schools was based on the best COVID-19 evidence available from around the world, and took into account not just the illness but the wider consideration of overall public health, says the province's top doctor.

Province reports 1,084 active cases on Thursday

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, updates Albertans on COVID-19 in Edmonton on March 20, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's plan to reopen schools was based on the best COVID-19 evidence available from around the world, and took into account not just the illness but the wider consideration of overall public health, says the province's top doctor.

The discussion about whether students should return the classrooms should not be focused only on COVID-19, because there are other risks that must be factored in, Dr. Deena Hinshaw  said Thursday at a news conference. 

"Some may wonder why we would reopen schools at all during a pandemic," Hinshaw said.

"My answer is that we must look at the overall health of our population and everything that contributes to health."

Alberta's chief medical officer of health said she is well aware that many teachers and students still have questions and concerns about the school re-entry plan.

Hinshaw said public health advice given to the government was based on a review of evidence of what has and hasn't worked in other counties, and on what science and medicine have learned about children and the COVID-19 virus over the past several months.

'Dizzying array' of information

Medical experts know much more about the virus than they did six months ago, she said.

"We also know very clearly that measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 came with their own risks to health and wellness. We must learn how to live with this virus, and how to find the right balance between preventing uncontrolled spread and preventing the harms that come from shutting down essential parts of our society."

Experts and parents alike are contending with "a dizzying array of information" about schools and COVID-19 transmission in children, she said.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw shares reasons for back to school

2 years ago
Duration 2:51
Alberta's chief medical officer of health says her advice for schools reopening has been based on evidence gathered from around the world.

"It can feel hard to make sense of it all, especially when it sometimes seems to be contradictory. That's why it is so important to look at the entire picture, not just one or two examples."

In offering a summary of the findings, Hinshaw said:

  • When children are infected, they tend to be mildly sick, and fewer are hospitalized.
  • Children who are infected, particularly younger children, do not seem to drive community transmission.
  • Young children seem less likely than older ones to infect other people.

She said she will send her own children back to the classroom when schools reopen, and tried once again to reassure those with concerns.

"We also need to look at the whole picture," Hinshaw said. "We must consider all the risks to our children and our communities. We can reasonably expect some infections at schools. Our job is to limit the number of these infections, prevent large outbreaks and prevent onward spread of these sporadic cases."

We need to look at the whole picture.- Dr. Deena Hinshaw

Each family, she said, will have to weigh the options and make the choice that best fits their situation.

Hinshaw said her office will continue to monitor new evidence as it emerges and will adapt advice about school re-entry plans as needed.

"As a parent of school-age children, I have decided that the value of in-school learning outweighs the risks for my family," she said. "That's why I'm sending my children back to school in September. 

"But I want to be clear, there is no wrong decision about a return to in-school or online learning. Each parent is uniquely positioned to make the decision that is best for their family."

One of the main predictors of successful school reopening is the level of community transmission, Hinshaw said.

She said places with high community transmission experience more spread in schools than places with low transmission.

She pointed to recent outbreaks in Georgia's schools, noting the state's rate of new daily cases is 12 times higher than in Alberta.

The latest numbers

Provincial labs completed 9,200 tests over the past 24 hours, an increase Hinshaw attributed, in part, to the fact that teachers and school staff are following advice and getting tested.

Alberta reported one more COVID-19 death and 103 new cases of the illness.

The death toll in the province reached 228 on Thursday. The active case total was 1,084.

The regional breakdown was:

  • Edmonton zone, 622 cases.
  • Calgary zone, 294 cases.
  • North zone, 100 cases.
  • Central zone, 33 cases.
  • South zone, 31 cases.
  • Unknown zone, four cases.

On Thursday, 43 people were being treated in hospitals for the illness, with 12 of them in ICU beds.


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