At least 20 Alberta schools have reported cases of COVID-19 since students across the province started returning to classrooms a week ago.
Support Our Students Alberta, a non-partisan, non-profit public education advocacy group, has a COVID-19 tracker for kindergarten to Grade 12 schools on its website.
It suggests 23 schools have had cases — including eight in Calgary and four in Edmonton — based on recent letters and emails sent to parents.
"We get parents to send us a screenshot of correspondence from principals, school districts or directly from Alberta Health Services," Wing Li, communications director for the advocacy group, said Tuesday.
"We are seeing this explosion of case reports."
Some of those reports include a positive case at Bowness High School in Calgary last week and a student from Saint Francis High School in Calgary whose COVID-19 test result was revealed this week.
At Ross Sheppard School in Edmonton, a letter posted online Tuesday noted that students in three Grade 10 classes need to be tested and must self-isolate at home for 14 days.
"If your child is required to isolate, you will have received a call from the school," said the letter from principal Rick Stanley. "A deep clean of the school was completed before students returned to class today."
No outbreaks have been declared at the schools and all remain open at this time.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical health officer, said officials have counted 11 cases at 11 schools but none of the infections were acquired at the schools.
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There may be reports of more school cases, she said, but those people may not have been in school while infectious.
Officials are taking all school cases seriously, Hinshaw added.
She said she's concerned with the rise in case numbers across the province. There were 619 new cases over the long weekend and 1,692 active cases on Tuesday — the highest active infection count since May 9.
But overall, with the majority of Alberta's 750,000 students and 90,000 staff back in school, the infection rate in the school community is low, Hinshaw said.
"We need to remember that there are no risk-free options when it comes to COVID and that we must support every aspect of our children's health. We need to be nimble and continue adapting our approaches bases on emerging evidence and the needs of schools and students."
Masks are mandatory in schools for students in grades 4 to 12 when there cannot be physical distancing. But Hinshaw said she has allowed an exemption for the Fort Vermilion School Division in the northern part of the province with six of its schools.
Those schools have a detailed physical-distancing plan that includes having only one cohort in a hallway at one time.
Hinshaw said she may amend rules for other schools, and schools with more than five COVID-19 cases will be listed on a health website.
Opposition NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said the United Conservative government needs to bring in daily online reporting of cases in schools and provide more resources to schools to keep students safe.
"This is a very disturbing trend just days into the school year," Hoffman said.
"We knew kids would be back in schools for months and the government has done nothing to plan for it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 8, 2020.
The Canadian Press