Alberta schools to resume in-person classes on Jan. 11, as other COVID-19 restrictions extended
Other restrictions put in place in December will remain for at least two more weeks
Alberta schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 11, as the government planned before the holiday season, Premier Jason Kenney says.
"The decision to resume in-class learning on Jan. 11 is based on carefully considering the importance of attending school in person," Kenney said Thursday at a news conference, "as well as the latest evidence of cases dropping in all school-related age groups in December."
Kenney said current provincial restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus will remain in place for at least two more weeks.
"In order to ensure that we take into account the very real possibility of an increase in cases as a result of the holidays, and given the fact that our case numbers, hospitalizations and positivity rate for testing remains high, Alberta's current health measures will remain in effect for at least two more weeks," he said.
Schools play a key role in supporting students with their emotional and mental health, he said.
"At the beginning of the school year, families across Alberta made the choice that was best for their kids and their family situation as to whether or not to have their children attend in-person class this year. While about 20 per cent of families and students chose to learn at home, the majority of parents chose in-school learning.
"For younger children, learning at home can be often challenging, from an academic, social and emotional perspective, especially for parents who didn't make that choice."
Alberta reported 24 more deaths on Thursday and 968 new cases of COVID-19. A total of 1,217 people have now died from the disease in Alberta.
There are 13,298 active cases across the province, with 871 people being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 139 in ICU beds.
Laboratories completed 14,833 tests over the past 24 hours, and had a positivity rate of 6.4 per cent.
The regional breakdown of active cases on Thursday was:
- Edmonton zone: 5,465
- Calgary zone: 4,739
- North zone: 1,384
- Central zone: 1,381
- South zone: 252
- Unknown: 77
A total of 33,864 doses of vaccine had been administered in the province by the end of day Wednesday.
There was a reassuring trend in dropping case numbers for all school-aged groups in December following the most recent restrictions, the premier said, but while testing numbers declined over the holidays, as anticipated, the province saw a continued high positivity rate.
"Let me just pause there to put that in context, because we got used to high numbers in the past couple of months," Kenney said. "But I remember from basically May through the end of September, a bad day would be a two per cent positivity rate, and in the last week or so we've been seeing about seven per cent."
Though the number of active cases has dropped substantially since measures were introduced, he said, on a per capita basis Alberta still has more active cases, new cases and fatalities than most other provinces.
"So we need to understand we've made progress, but we are far from getting out of this."
Virus spread still high
Alberta has seen a decrease in the spread of COVID-19 since restrictions were implemented in early December, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
But the spread of the virus is still very high, and the province is still averaging more than 1,000 new cases each day, she said.
"This is lower than the 1,877 detected on Dec. 7 but it is still too high," Hinshaw said.
Thursday was the first time Kenney has joined Hinshaw behind the podium since Dec. 22 when he cautioned Albertans to remain vigilant over the holidays and spoke of the staggering toll surging case numbers were exacting on frontline healthcare.
Since then, the province has been embroiled in an MLA travel scandal, made slow but steady progress in its vaccination campaign, lost three healthcare workers to the illness and watched reported cases gradually decline.