Alberta reports first in-school transmission of COVID-19 variants

There have now been seven classes in six schools across the province where a student with a variant case of COVID-19 has attended while infectious

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Alberta has identified in-school transmission of variant COVID-19 cases for the first time, as two students in the same class have been diagnosed with one of the more contagious strains of the virus.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday that Alberta detected 16 new variant cases overall in the province, including the new cases linked to the school. Alberta has now identified 120 total variant cases since mid-December, of which 113 have been the strain first detected in the U.K.

The other seven have been the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa. A total of 58 variant cases have been found in Alberta Health Services’ Calgary zone.

Hinshaw declined to reveal the zone in which in-school transmission had taken place, as families of close contacts were still being notified.

There have now been seven classes in six schools across the province where a student with a variant case of COVID-19 has attended while infectious. She said the majority of in-school exposure has not led to transmission.

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“This is the first time in one of these schools that we have identified variant transmission occurring in that location,” Hinshaw said.

“At this point, the transmission looks quite similar to what we’ve seen on occasion with non-variant cases of COVID-19, where we have seen occasional examples of in-school transmission.”

Hinshaw said the province would work with public health officials to determine if any lessons can be learned that would affect its approach toward curbing spread of the virus in schools.

“At this time, it seems like the in-school approach is appropriate for the current situation,” she said.

On Wednesday, Alberta reported 339 new cases of COVID-19 from 10,873 tests, for a positivity rate of 3.1 per cent.

Six more deaths related to the coronavirus were reported, bringing Alberta’s fatality toll to 1,728 since the pandemic began.

As of Wednesday, Alberta had 5,706 active cases — a day-over-day decrease of 125 — including 2,269 in AHS’ Calgary zone. A total of 421 COVID-19 patients remained hospitalized, including 77 people in intensive-care units.

Thus far, 129,452 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta, representing 2,927.5 doses for every 100,000 people.

Nearly 37,000 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses of vaccine. That includes 71 per cent of residents of long-term care and designated supportive-living sites in Alberta.

Hinshaw said Alberta’s “aggressive testing” for variant cases of the virus is driving its strategy to avoid situations seen in other jurisdictions, where those strains have become the dominant form of the virus.

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“What we’ve seen in other places around the world where the variant strains have become dominant, in many of those places the variant strains were introduced prior to recognition of them and they unfortunately had already become relatively widespread before measures to prevent their spread were put in place,” she said.

“What we’re doing here is the aggressive testing, where we are screening all of our positive cases for variant strain so that we’re able to put more intensive intervention around those cases and really treat those cases with a containment approach.”

Premier Jason Kenney announced earlier in the day the province has reached an agreement with the federal government to begin paying out a wage top-up to low-paid essential workers.

The UCP government will send one-time cheques of $1,200 to more than 380,000 front-line workers in public and private sectors, including those working in health care, continuing care, education, transportation and the grocery industry.

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