'Students are expected to stay home': Alberta schools, daycares to close over COVID-19
EDMONTON -- The Alberta government will shut down all schools, and daycares and cancel in-person classes at post-secondary institutions due to the "unprecedented" threat of COVID-19, it announced at a news conference on Sunday.
While K-12 schools will be closed to students, the province said teachers and other school staff will be expected to continue their regular day-to-day operations and administrative work.
At this time, diploma exams for Grade 12 students will still go ahead. The province expects that any student who is eligible to graduate from Grade 12 this year will still graduate.
Post-secondary campuses will remain open to students who need to use facilities, but classes will be delivered online.
Licensed child care, out-of-school care and preschool programs in the province are now closed, but the province said approved day homes would be exempt because they care for fewer than seven children at a time.
The province also said that places of worship are now being asked to cancel services, in addition to an earlier recommendation that all gatherings of 250 people or more be cancelled.
Under the new guidelines, any event with 50 or more attendees or events with international participants, critical infrastructure staff, seniors or other high-risk populations should be cancelled.
NEW CASES OF COVID-19
The province also said there are 17 new cases of COVID-19. The total number of cases in Alberta has jumped to 56.
Three of the cases are in the Edmonton zone, and 14 are in the Calgary zone.
"This underlines the fact that gatherings can accelerate the spread of the virus," Alberta's Chief Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw said.
In addition to the new cases in the province, Hinshaw confirmed that at least two of the cases identified over the last two days are non-travel related, or community spread cases.
"For at least some of the new cases over the weekend, public health officials have not confirmed a travel history or close contact with a traveler. This indicates community spread," Hinshaw said.
The decision to close schools was made in part because of the community spread.
"Based on what we've seen over the last two days it is clear to me that now is the time for additional actions," Hinshaw said.
NEW HEALTH FUNDING
On top of the closures, the province announced an additional $500 million in funding for Alberta’s public health officials to ensure they have the tools they need for testing and treatment of the virus.
"This is truly an unprecedented public health emergency for Alberta, and our government is committed to bolstering the efforts of our front-line health professionals with the resources they need to continue protecting the province," Kenney wrote in a news release. "Alberta’s public health workers are doing an outstanding job, and we are here to support them with whatever they need."
Premier Kenney also advised all Albertans to cancel non-essential travel plans at the press conference.
"Frankly, from today onwards, all non-essential travel plans should be cancelled."
"There is no good reason to be travelling for leisure purposes at this time," he said.
Kenney also said the he had directed Travel Alberta to prepare a campaign to advise travellers like snowbirds of the protocol when returning to Canada.
Travellers who have returned from outside the country should self-isolate for 14 days, even if they are feeling well, and monitor for symptoms.
Any travellers who returned before March 12 and is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should call Health Link 811.
The province stressed that the best way to prevent illness, including COVID-19, is with good hygiene, including cleaning hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching the face, coughing or sneezing into your elbow or sleeve, disposing of tissues appropriately, and staying home if you are sick.