EDMONTON -- Edmonton Public Schools is changing its approach to public disclosure and contact tracing when students and staff test positive for COVID-19.

Previously, the school division had not been disclosing new cases of COVID-19 unless first confirmed by Alberta Health Services (AHS).

"The way it has been working is, when a family goes and gets their child tested for COVID and that result unfortunately comes back positive, often times their families will reach out directly to the school principal," Edmonton Public School Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks told CTV News Edmonton. 

Estabrooks said that a backlog of cases in the province and an insufficient number of AHS contact tracers meant the school division was aware of 273 new cases that had yet to be been confirmed by AHS.

"We've released that data now publicly," she said. "The fact that we had that backlog really is a symptom of a system that's under pressure."  

The school division is now asking families to report to school staff when their child tests positive. From there, school officials will notify any close contacts of the students and suggest quarantine periods.

"Really, what happened is our principals and staff were forced into becoming contact tracers," the board chair said.

Estabrooks says while she feels the public school division has an obligation to contribute to the contact-tracing workload, it comes at a time when staff is already under significant pressure.

"Edmonton public, just like many other divisions, just took that work on and did what needed to be done," she said. "This has been a challenging year for our staff and our principals, but this was another task that was added to their plate."

According to the school board chair, principals have been spending hours after school, on weekends and holidays contacting families.

Estabrooks is also calling on the province to provide the school division with clear data indicating which schools have had in-school transmissions so those schools can adjust protocols.

Students in Grades 7 to 12 have been learning from home since Monday.

Since September, there have been a total of 765 confirmed student cases of COVID-19 in public schools in Edmonton.


In a written statement, Edmonton Catholic Schools spokesperson Lori Nagy told CTV News Edmonton her division isolates groups or classes of students as soon as they receive confirmation from a parent that their child has tested positive for COVID-19. 

"We work in partnership with AHS on all cases, identify close contacts using the processes AHS has outlined and are in daily contact with AHS on all positive COVID cases."