From the Province of Alberta
Students returning to school for 2020-21 school year
Students will return to learning in classrooms across Alberta at the beginning of the new school year.
Schools will be ready to welcome students under scenario 1, which is near-normal daily operations with health measures.
Alberta’s government has developed a re-entry tool kit to prepare parents and students for what to expect in the new school year. The tool kit includes videos for students explaining some of the health measures, a guide for parents, frequently asked questions, school posters, a self-screening questionnaire in multiple languages, and links to health guidelines.
Under scenario 1, schools will implement a number of public health measures, which include frequent cleaning of surfaces, placing hand sanitizers at school entrances and classrooms, grouping students in cohorts, and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing, which could include staggering start times for classes, recesses and lunches. Additional public health measures may be established prior to September on the advice of the chief medical officer of health in consultation with the education system.
In addition, students, staff, parents and school visitors will be expected to use a self-screening questionnaire daily to determine whether they can enter the school.
Successful transition to summer school and child care
Alberta’s school re-entry plan works, and already has mitigated risks to students and teachers. Throughout the summer, the Calgary Catholic Separate School Division ran in-person summer school programming in accordance to the guidelines developed and issued by the province. These comprehensive guidelines have mitigated risk, resulting in no COVID-19 outbreaks among teachers or students participating in summer school.
Additionally, Alberta has seen a successful reopening of child care centres across the province. Children and staff have safely returned to these centres with no outbreaks occurring.
School authority funding
School authorities have returned to full funding levels as of July 1, and every school authority in Alberta is receiving a funding increase for the 2020-21 school year – roughly $120 million across the province. A list of funding for every school authority is available here.
In addition, the Minister of Education has approved the use of school board reserves, if needed, to help cover local COVID-19-related costs. The total amount of money sitting in school board reserves is $363 million.
Accelerated capital school funding
The province has also provided school boards an additional $250 million to support accelerated capital maintenance and renewal projects, as part of the more than $10 billion infrastructure spending announced in the Alberta Recovery Plan.
This funding supports infrastructure enhancements that will help in a COVID-19 learning environment. Seventy-nine school projects totalling $15 million are moving forward with this primary purpose, including upgrades for enhanced hygiene such as hands-free sinks, automatic flush toilets, touchless soap and paper towel dispensers, automatic doors and water bottle filling stations to replace water fountains.
New online Student Learning Hub
A new Student Learning Hub on new.learnalberta.ca is available for parents, students, and teachers to more easily access educational materials to support development of student literacy and numeracy, and provide health and wellness information.
The online hub is another resource to support Alberta’s school re-entry plan, with recognition that more online learning resources may be needed during the upcoming school year. Additional resources will also be added throughout the school year.
Expanding diploma exams
Diploma exams will be offered in every subject in the November and April exam sessions. Expanding the offerings of the diploma exams will support school authorities who are shifting high school programming to a four-semester system as part of their COVID-19 re-entry plan. This shift allows for better cohorting by limiting the number of classes a student is in during a term without affecting total learning time over the course of a year.
Personal protective equipment
Students and staff may wear a mask if they choose to. However, practices such as physical distancing, cohorting, frequent handwashing, staying home when sick and increased cleaning of surfaces will continue to be the priority public health measures.
COVID-19 cases at school
If a student or staff tests positive for COVID-19, a public health team will investigate to determine when symptoms developed and support the school to minimize transmission.
While each case will be addressed based on its unique circumstances, it is anticipated that in most cases only the group of students and staff who came in close contact will likely be required to stay home for 14 days, and not the entire school population.
Parents will be notified if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed at school and public health officials will contact those who were in close contact with that person.
Transitioning to scenario 2 or scenario 3
If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in a community or school, health officials will work with Alberta Education and impacted school authorities to make any decision to potentially transition to partial in-class learning or at-home learning. Decisions will be based on multiple factors including the number of cases in a community or school and the risk of ongoing transmission.
The health guidance for scenario 2 has been updated to allow for a maximum of 20 students per class.
Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation
Salt that crystallizes with sharp edges is the killer ingredient in the development of a reusable mask because any COVID-19 droplets that land on it would be quickly destroyed, says a researcher who is being recognized for her innovation.
Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta, said a mostly salt and water solution that coats the first or middle layer of the mask would dissolve droplets before they can penetrate the face covering.
As the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus within five minutes, Rubino said.
“We know that after the pathogens are collected in the mask, they can survive. Our goal was to develop a technology that is able to inactivate the pathogens upon contact so that we can make the mask as effective as possible.”
Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs. The Canadian not-for-profit organization receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.
The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.
The idea is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers who must dispose of them in a few hours, she said, adding the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.
The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.
Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.
Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.
“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” she said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended homemade masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.
Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.
Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of a physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a provincewide policy on mandatory masks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
Alberta nurses reject government’s call to delay bargaining for new deal
EDMONTON — Alberta’s nurses union says the province’s health delivery agency has rejected a call for a settlement similar to one reached with nurses in Saskatchewan that would have provided stability during the COVID-19 pandemic.
United Nurses of Alberta says in a news release it called on Alberta Health Services to quickly negotiate a contract “in order to achieve labour peace, stabilize the Alberta workforce, and focus on responding to the pandemic.”
But the union says AHS negotiators wanted to delay bargaining, a demand it says it rejected because the agency refused to halt the elimination nursing positions through attrition during COVID-19 and wouldn’t promise to end rollbacks when negotiations resume.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release Monday that the union was seeking a seven per cent pay increase, and that both sides had been negotiating a delay in bargaining until March 31 due to the increasing demands of COVID-19.
The Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations said earlier Monday that it had reached agreements with its nurses, although details weren’t being released until the deals are ratified by both sides.
Toews says that Alberta’s nurses are compensated approximately 8.1 per cent more than their western Canadian peers.
“I am disappointed that a deal could not be reached — delaying bargaining would have provided much needed stability for the health-care system as we continue to focus on the pandemic and keeping Albertans safe,” the minister said in the government’s release.
UNA president Heather Smith said in the union’s news release that the negotiations team couldn’t agree to pause negotiations until March 31, and that the next scheduled bargaining dates are Dec. 14 and 15.
“Clearly AHS and this government are more intent on pursing their agenda of rollbacks and reducing the workforce, even during a pandemic, than assuring a stable workforce to respond to the needs of Albertans,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020.
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