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Athabasca schools extend online learning as COVID-19 outbreak grows to 101 cases

All three schools in Athabasca are extending online learning until April 16 after 101 people tested positive for COVID-19 from an outbreak originating at Edwin Parr Composite School.

Outbreak started on March 24 with 2 cases

Edwin Parr Composite School in Athabasca is currently experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 that has grown to 101 cases. (Aspen View Public Schools)

All three schools in the northern Alberta town of Athabasca are extending online learning until April 16 after 101 people tested positive for COVID-19 stemming from an outbreak at Edwin Parr Composite School. 

The school's outbreak started on March 24 with two confirmed cases, a week later there were 47 cases and now there are101 cases. 

There are 780 people who were in close contact with those affected, including bus drivers, staff and students from neighbouring schools. The school division has confirmed some of the cases are variants. 

The school moved classes online to deal with the outbreak and has now extended the online learning period to April 16. 

Neil O'Shea, superintendent for Aspen View Public Schools said they are hoping to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community. 

Athabasca County has only seen 467 cases over the course of the pandemic, but is currently dealing with 266 active cases of COVID-19.

"We don't really know where or how or why it spread so quickly," said O'Shea.

He said he started getting phone calls about positive cases on the Friday before spring Break, not leaving much time to investigate how the cases started.

"When you start to see cases coming in that fast it starts to make you really uneasy and anxious," said O'Shea. 

He said schools in the surrounding area now have voluntary masks for kindergarten to Grade 3, previously it was only for grades 4 to 12. 

"This is a wake up call that even though we're vigilant around our restrictions they can still get out of control," said O'Shea. 

For Athabasc Mayor Colleen Powell the outbreak has been "a fairly shattering experience and it was not something we expected." 

She said there's a minority of people in the area that flout the regulations and she hasn't "seen any real enforcement" of COVID-19 restrictions, though she added the town doesn't have a large contingent of RCMP officers and only one peace officer. 

She said people should be following the province's health guidance: wash your hands, don't touch your face, wear a mask and don't have indoor gatherings. 

"These are not life-threatening rules, these are simple rules," said Powell. 

"Let's just hunker down and get through this." 

Annie Karczmarczyk, school board trustee and mother of two, said both of her daughters tested positive for COVID-19 the Edwin Parr Composite outbreak.  

Her daughters are currently isolated in different parts of the house, with Karcmarczyk dropping off meals. 

Her husband is quarantining elsewhere because he is a dentist and can return to his practice two weeks sooner if he isolates separately. 

"You make the meals and pick up the dishes, make the meals and pick up the dishes," said Karcmarczyk. "It's just not being able to comfort them when they were sick or sad was hard as a mom." 

But she said she does feel fortunate, because others have struggled more. 

"I worry about my little community," said Karcmarczyk.  "It just spread faster than anyone had anticipated." 

She said her daughters have had mild symptoms that have been managed at home and she plans to send her daughters back to school when it reopens. 

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