Variants of concern suspected at 3 Saskatoon schools, all students and staff asked to get tested
Classes to continue as scheduled until the Easter break begins on Friday
Officials are worried that COVID-19 outbreaks at Brevoort Park School, Tommy Douglas Collegiate and Bethlehem Catholic High School in Saskatoon may involve more-contagious variants of concern (VOCs).
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it's encouraging all students and staff members at the schools to get tested.
Students and staff were provided a referral form they can use to get an appointment for testing, a representative from Saskatoon Public Schools said. They can also get tested at the local drive-thru testing site.
Students, staff and parents were notified of the outbreaks on Tuesday, according to releases from Saskatoon Public Schools and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.
Both divisions said classes will continue as scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday before the Easter break begins on Friday, except for any classes or cohorts that are self-isolating.
Derrick Kunz, communications consultant with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, said in an email that the division is concerned about the variants.
"We see how VOCs can quickly increase the number of cases in other parts of the world, country and province, and we realize Saskatoon and our schools are not immune to the possibility of them becoming more prevalent here," he said.
Kunz said any changes to instruction would be made in consultation with the local medical health officer and that there are no plans to move the whole division to online learning at this time.
Regina and Moose Jaw move to remote learning
Last week, all Regina schools started moving to online learning, with high school students switching to online learning within days of the announcement and elementary school students going online at the beginning of this week.
In Moose Jaw, the Prairie South School Division also moved all pre K-12 schools and Caronport Elementary to online learning last week.
"Although we continue to have no confirmed school level transmission, we have had more positive cases in schools over the last two days than we had for the 38 days prior to that," Tony Baldwin, the director of education, said in a letter to parents.
In both Regina and Moose Jaw, students are expected to return to in-person classes after the Easter break on April 12.
According to the Government of Saskatchewan list of COVID-19 cases in schools, there are currently 38 schools in Regina with at least one COVID case, 15 schools in Saskatoon with at least one case, and three schools in Moose Jaw with cases.
'Alarming levels of variant-fuelled infection rates': building operator
A high school building operator in Saskatoon says he's paying attention to what's happening in Regina and Moose Jaw and more needs to be done for the safety of students and those working in the education system.
"It's urgent for the provincial government not to squander our time now," Rob Westfield told CBC's Saskatoon Morning.
Westfield is the building operator at Bedford Road Collegiate in Saskatoon and chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees education workers' steering committee.
It's urgent for the provincial government not to squander our time now.- Rob Westfield, chair of the CUPE Education Workers' Steering Committee
There are about 500 students enrolled at Bedford, he said.
"It's not just those 500 students, it's their families and their cohorts," he said. "The numbers are just staggering when you think about it in that respect."
Westfield said it's not a safe working environment. He said there needs to be a functioning rapid testing system in place and school staff need to be prioritized for vaccinations.
"Until then, schools will not be able to reopen safely for in-class learning, especially with these alarming levels of variant-fuelled infection rates," he said.
The province says it has delivered 100,000 rapid tests to schools, but Westfield said schools have not been given direction about how to deploy those tests.
He said there needs to be "practical groundwork" in place to implement rapid testing in schools.
"That's been missing in action and that's all as a result of the provincial government's dithering and lack of leadership."
Saskatoon Public Schools issued a statement saying it is working with other school divisions and the health authority to determine standard practices for rapid testing. It has done one pilot with teachers at a school in Saskatoon, but has no further plans right now.
- A previous version of this story said there were 500 students at Bedford Road Collegiate at any given time. In fact, there are 500 students in total enrolled at the high school, with students alternating days.Apr 01, 2021 6:24 AM CT
With files from Saskatoon Morning