Skip to content

Contact tracing returns to Rocky View Schools

Contact tracing is back for Rocky View Schools as per the latest provincial government and health guidelines to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Contact tracing is back for Rocky View Schools (RVS) as per the latest provincial government and health guidelines to combat the spread of COVID-19.

In Cochrane, both Manachaban Middle School and Elizabeth Barrett Elementary School have reported recent respiratory illness outbreaks.

Leah Abelseth said she took her daughter in Grade 8 at Manachaban out of class last week, when an outbreak was declared by Alberta Health Services (AHS). A statement on the schools website shows a respiratory illness outbreak was declared in the school Oct. 1.

At the time of the declaration, schools were required to report to AHS when the school-wide student absence rate reached 10 per cent or greater due to any illnesses or if there was an unusual number of individuals with similar symptoms within a cohort or class.

“They just said that they had reached the threshold of 10 per cent of the student body having respiratory illnesses and that some of the cases were confirmed to be COVID,” Abelseth said. “Some of the cases could mean many different things, like 10 per cent of the student body is 50 kids.”

Now, AHS will declare an outbreak if there are 10 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases at a school within a 14-day period.

“It’s just not the best communication but I want to say loud and clear that I do not blame the school principal or staff at all,” Abelseth said. “I was just flabbergasted to learn that we’re supposed to have this 'normal' return to school, no masks, no distancing, no cohorts and having assemblies. That’s completely insane to me when they know that there’s a Delta variant of the virus circulating.”

Abelseth said she wishes Rocky View Schools had taken a more proactive approach at the beginning of the school year, requiring masks like the Calgary Board of Education and Edmonton Public Schools made calls to do. The recent changes are too late, she said.

“I think they’ve given the schools a windbreaker in a tornado," Abelseth said. "Had this been in the plans in July, I would say yes, these measures would be effective. But now we have a virus that’s already out of control. It feels like a lot of the folks that aren’t in those decision-making head of the province positions are picking up the slack and trying to put these policies through when it should come from the very top.”

According to the latest update from the provincial government and Alberta Health, schools must take on the responsibility to perform contact tracing until Alberta Health Services takes over in November.

In an Oct. 7 RVS board meeting, superintendent Greg Luterbach said that the school division would release case update letters daily beginning Oct. 12, unless different guidance is given by the province.

“There are no updated guidance books, documents that have been released yet and my understanding is that that will not be before Tuesday [Oct. 12],” he said. “Nonetheless, we’ve already discussed how we’re looking at doing it in Rocky View. It is our intention that we are going to act upon when staff and/or students self-disclose and not wait for AHS. We will release letters at the end of every day. So, if a school has cases that they’re made aware of either through disclosure or an Alberta Health Services contact, at the end of the day, we will send a letter home to all families at that school.”

Luterbach said that the message to parents would go on to mention specific details of which homeroom classes, extracurricular activities or school buses where students may have had contact with an infectious individual while at school.

“The letter will go on to say the advice is to continue to monitor, you can choose to get tested, you do not have to isolate or quarantine," he said. "So, it’ll be one letter to the entire school community. We’ll have school-wide transparency and it will lessen contact with infectious individuals, where possible.”

According to the division’s updated return to school operational plan, Kindergarten to Grade 6 classes will shift to at-home learning for 10 calendar days if three new positive cases are reported in a class within five calendar days. All RVS staff, volunteers, contractors and visitors will also be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative rapid test at all indoor RVS locations. A date has not been set for when this will take effect.

Christina Bashow, a nurse at Alberta Children’s Hospital who also has two kids attending Manachaban Middle School said she feels a sense of relief with some of the regulations coming back.

“Healthcare professionals and doctors were predicting this fourth wave since at least mid-August,” she said. “I was pretty disappointed that Rocky View was doing the bare minimum, which was what the government recommendations were, so it all comes back to the government. But I’ve seen other school boards step up to protect kids and was hoping that ours would. Now we’re in a crisis and the government has had to go back on some of their regulations.”

Bashow said she sees firsthand what is happening as a result of the lack of measures that have been taken in schools.

“I know that generally COVID isn’t serious in kids but they’re driving infections in other populations and right now there are four kids hospitalized because of COVID and that is devastating for the families.”