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Alberta

Masks to be mandatory in Alberta schools – Update on back to school plan

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School, classroom, students, teacher

From the Province of Alberta

School health measures now include mandatory masks

As part of a number of new school safety measures to combat COVID-19, mask use for Grade 4 to 12 students, and all school staff, will be mandatory when school returns for the 2020-21 year.

While mandatory mask use is for students in Grades 4 to 12 and all staff, all students and staff in public, separate, Francophone, charter and independent schools will receive two reusable masks from Alberta’s government. More than 1.6 million masks will be distributed to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff. Additional single-use masks will be available at schools, if required.

Mask use will be mandatory for staff and teachers in all settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Students will be required to wear them in all shared and common areas such as hallways and on buses. Exemptions will be made for students and staff who are unable to wear a mask due to medical or other needs.

Mask use for kindergarten to Grade 3 students will continue to be optional. Mask use for younger children is a challenge due to difficulties with proper fit and compliance. In addition, evidence shows that children under 10 may be less likely than older children or adults to transmit COVID-19.

“The safety of our staff and students continues to be my number 1 priority. Since cancelling in-person classes in March and developing our school re-entry plan, we have been clear that we would continue to adapt our guidelines as necessary based on current medical advice. These new safety measures will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools, and we will continue to work with our school authorities to ensure they are equipped for a successful start to the school year.”

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education

“After reviewing the emerging evidence, it is clear that masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19. I am not making this updated recommendation lightly, but acting on the best current evidence available. While masks are important, I want to stress that they are only one of the many public health measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of students, staff and families.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta

“CASS’ board of directors appreciates the government’s commitment to adapting Alberta’s health guidelines as new medical information becomes available and for ensuring school divisions are receiving the protective equipment they need for a successful transition back to school. This announcement clearly demonstrates Alberta Education’s willingness to take the necessary steps to support the safety of staff and students. We appreciate their continued collaboration and support as we approach the beginning of a new school year.”

Bevan Daverne, president, College of Alberta School Superintendents

Alberta’s government remains committed to adjusting the school re-entry guidelines based on current medical advice. The chief medical officer of health has been studying the evidence around masking in schools, and this decision is a direct result of evolving medical advice.

Face shields

School staff will receive one reusable face shield for their use in the schools. Shield use is at the discretion of the individual staff member. Plastic face shields can help reduce exposure but are not equivalent to masks. A mask must still be worn while wearing a face shield.

Hand sanitizer

About 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer will be distributed between all school authorities. The specific volume provided to an individual school authority will be based on student population.

Thermometers

Each school will receive two contactless thermometers to assist with managing student and staff health. Thermometer use will be at the discretion of the school authority.

Staff testing

Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services are working hard to expand testing capacity and reduce turnaround times for testing, including in-school staff, teachers and students, so that anyone with symptoms or close contacts of cases can be rapidly tested and receive test results promptly.

All supplies will be distributed to school authorities by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Authorities will then distribute to individual schools, staff and/or students based on the needs of their own communities.

Provincial health guidance for a safe return to school will continue to evolve as necessary to reflect the latest evidence on the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individual school authorities are developing return-to-school plans that meet the needs of their own communities. These plans are based on direction provided under the provincial school re-entry plan, and supporting health guidance documents.

Alberta’s Recovery Plan is a bold, ambitious long-term strategy to build, diversify, and create tens of thousands of jobs now. By building schools, roads and other core infrastructure we are benefiting our communities. By diversifying our economy and attracting investment with Canada’s most competitive tax environment, we are putting Alberta on a path for a generation of growth. Alberta came together to save lives by flattening the curve and now we must do the same to save livelihoods, grow and thrive.

Quick facts

  • Alberta’s government announced students and staff would return to school under scenario 1 – near-normal daily operations with health measures – on July 21.
  • School authorities are required to be prepared to move between the three scenarios outlined in the provincial school re-entry plan. Changes to scenarios will be determined by Alberta Education.

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Alberta

Too many new pet owners, not enough vets make getting animal care a problem

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CALGARY — Dr. Liz Ruelle says it was a difficult decision to close her veterinary practice to first-time patients after being swamped with requests by new pet owners who turned to animal companionship during the pandemic.

For Ruelle, who operates the Wild Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary, everything takes two to three times longer with COVID-19 safety protocols, so providing timely medical attention to animals can be challenging.

She’s six months behind on regular checkups and so decided last October to refer new furry patients to emergency clinics.

“Everyone was running out and getting pets … and we’re now facing backlogs of annual exams, because we weren’t doing them for months,” Ruelle said.

“I have a hard time saying no to people. It’s gut-wrenching for us. When we’re saying no, it’s because we physically can’t.”

Humane Canada says 78,000 cats and 28,000 dogs were in shelters across Canada in 2019. Sixty-five per cent of the felines and 73 per cent of dogs were either adopted or reclaimed by their owners.

Numbers for last year aren’t yet available, but shelters across the country say demand has been brisk, although the number of cats and dogs available has dropped.

“Our adoptions have thankfully stayed steady throughout the pandemic and haven’t seen a marked increase in animal returns,” said Jessica Bohrson from the Calgary Humane Society.

“With so many folks now working from home, they’ve been able to give their new pets a great deal of attention.”

There are about 10,000 veterinarians in Canada. Dr. Enid Stiles, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, said that’s too few vets for the number of pets.

The greatest shortfall is in British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“It’s become a triage of what’s most important. Certainly these new pets have thrown a wrench into things, because in Canada we already have a very big shortage of veterinarians,” said Stiles, who shut down her Montreal clinic to new patients in December.

“My clinic said we would never do that, but … we ended up having to stop taking any new patients because we’re burning out. We had to put the brakes on and that’s hard because where are those pets going to go?

“The irony is they’re going to end up being pushed out to more rural vets, who may still have some ability to see these patients, but now they’re having to travel great distances in a pandemic just to get veterinary care.”

Lack of attention for newer patients has led to many veterinarians being subjected to verbal abuse from angry pet owners, Stiles added.

“People get frustrated and they’re very emotional when dealing with pets. We understand, but certainly with the pandemic it’s even more of a struggle,” she said.

“People’s fuses are short.”

The Toronto Humane Society switched to virtual adoptions last spring. The organization has fewer animals available than usual because it isn’t allowed to bring in any from the United States with the border closed.

Hannah Sotropa said the society has received more than 11,000 applications for adoption since the pandemic began.

“Definitely the interest has certainly increased. We’re not seeing an increase in adoptions per se largely due to the fact we have had fewer animals,” she said.

The Toronto Humane Society has its own public veterinary service clinic which vaccinates, spays and neuters pets. It also has a dental suite.

“There’s going to be backlogs. What’s really important is we find ways to make veterinary care more accessible, so we can prevent animals ending up in our shelters simply due to affordability or lack of availability to basic, veterinary care,” Sotropa said.

“It’s important for people to know that even if they are an adopter, they can still come for help if they need it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021

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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

WestJet grounds Max flight before takeoff after system indicates ‘potential fault’

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CALGARY — WestJet says a Boeing 737 Max that was scheduled to fly from Calgary to Toronto on Friday returned to the gate before taking off due to a warning in the cockpit.

A WestJet spokeswoman, Lauren Stewart, said that after the plane’s engines were started, its monitoring system indicated a “potential fault that needed to be verified and reset.”

The process takes time and requires an engine run, which the airline does not perform with passengers on board, Stewart said.

In the interests’ of passengers’ time, WestJet cancelled the flight and booked passengers on the next available flight to Toronto, Stewart said.

The aircraft has since been cleared by maintenance and will return to service as scheduled on Jan. 24, Stewart said.

The Max was cleared to fly in Canadian airspace on Wednesday after it was grounded for nearly two years following deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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