Edmonton

Edmonton Catholic schools tighten mask rules, citing surge in COVID-19 cases among children

Masks will be required at all times for all students and staff in schools operated by Edmonton Catholic Schools, including during classes, the division announced Monday.

Masks will be mandatory inside, including during class time

A masked student disembarks her bus and heads off to her first day of school in Edmonton on Sept. 2, 2020. Edmonton Catholic Schools says all students in all classes will have to wear masks this school year. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

Masks will be required at all times for all students and staff in schools operated by Edmonton Catholic Schools, including during classes, the division announced Monday.

The division cited an increase in COVID-19 cases among Alberta children in tightening masking requirements for students and staff in kindergarten through Grade 12.

The revised back-to-school guidelines were issued Monday.

Masks will not be required during physical education or music classes or while students are outdoors, the board said in an updated back-to-school plan emailed to parents and guardians.

"There's been a significant upward trend of COVID-19 cases among school-aged children," said Sandra Palazzo, chair of the Catholic school board.

"We have committed since the beginning of the pandemic to continually examine our protocols or procedures, and we feel now is the time to increase our masking requirements." 

Palazzo said the requirements will remain in place until school officials feel confident that infection rates have declined. She said a more cautious approach than the one laid out by provincial health officials is needed as students return to the classroom.

"We will continue to review and adapt our safety measures with the goal of eventually removing all extraordinary protocols when it is reasonable and safe for everyone," she told reporters.

Under the previous plan, masks would have been required in common areas and on the bus for all staff and students in grades 4 to 12. Younger students would have only been required to wear masks on the bus. 

The provincial government has removed masking requirements in schools. Face coverings will remain mandatory on school buses and transit until Sept. 27.

Children are returning to classrooms this week as cases of COVID-19 surge across the province. Alberta is leading the country in daily new cases and hundreds of children are among the newly infected. 

According to the latest numbers from Alberta Health, there are 469 active cases of COVID-19 among children aged five to nine. There are an additional 1,187 active cases among Albertans aged 10 to 19. 

In addition to masking, pupils and staff must screen themselves daily for potential symptoms of COVID-19, and isolate at home if they are sick. 

Many students will be grouped into cohorts for another year, when possible. There will be staggered arrivals and increased hygiene protocols in a bid to limit potential spread.

Students will be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19 and daily screening will take place.

Edmonton Public Schools will require staff and students to wear masks. The rule will apply to students in pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 who are developmentally able.

The boards are taking differing approaches to case notification as Alberta Health halts contact tracing in the classroom. This school year, schools and Alberta Health Services (AHS) have no obligation to share information about positive cases.

Alberta Health will, however, continue to investigate outbreaks and work with division officials to determine if additional measures are needed.

In public schools, if a family or staff member notifies them of an AHS lab-confirmed case of COVID-19, a letter will go home to families in the affected classes.

At Edmonton Catholic schools, guardians are encouraged to report confirmed cases to school administration. School officials will then evaluate the need for notices on a case-by-case basis, with the advice of health authorities.

"They have assured us that, in this situation, that they will work with our division," Palazzo said. 

"Alberta Health Services has also indicated that it will work with us if an outbreak is identified in one of our schools. And we haven't heard from them at this time. And so we're confident that that will continue to occur." 

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