COVID-19: Teacher absences climb; City of Edmonton donates masks to schools; Alberta hits eight million vaccine doses

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Mounting cases of COVID-19 driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant continue to push Alberta’s caseload past previous records and increase hospitalizations in the province as teacher absences also climb.

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On Friday, Alberta identified 6,163 new cases of COVID-19, raising the number of active cases in the province to 64,129 — or 1,396 more than Thursday’s record-breaking caseload.

As of Friday morning, Edmonton Public Schools saw 603 teacher absences, 54 more than reported Thursday, and 324 educational assistant absences, 19 more than the day before, division spokeswoman Megan Normandeau told Postmedia in an email statement.

The division deployed 29 teachers hired in January to cover some of those absences, Normandeau added, leaving 53 absences unfilled — far less than the 195 educational absences that went unfilled Friday.

Since Alberta Health stopped notifying school authorities of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the division has been tracking self-reported COVID-19 infections and sharing the results online.

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As of Friday at 5 p.m. 3.16 per cent of 105,151 Edmonton public students were absent due to COVID-19, while 3.56 per cent called in sick for other reasons.

Meanwhile, Edmonton Catholic Schools spokeswoman Christine Meadows said the division saw 664 staff absent Friday morning, including 357 teachers.

As the province waits on directly purchased and federally supplied rapid tests to provide schools and priority groups such as health-care workers, Premier Jason Kenney has said teachers and students are on track to receive 10 million medical-grade masks, which school authorities began receiving this week.

The City of Edmonton has also chipped in, donating a supply of KN95 masks to Edmonton Public Schools that should cover school staff for 10 days, Normandeau said, adding that the division is “incredibly appreciative” of the gesture.

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In an email statement Friday, the Alberta NDP once again called upon the United Conservative Party for stronger safety measures in schools, including accurate public reporting of infections and absences.

“Schools should be a safe place for students, teachers and all staff,” NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said while calling for HEPA filters, N95 masks, and funding for mental health counsellors and more full-time teachers.

There are 822 patients in hospital with the disease, 36 more than reported the day before, including 81 in intensive care.

Five more Albertans with COVID-19 have died, raising the provincial death toll to 3,380.

To prevent severe outcomes caused by the disease, the province has administered eight million doses of COVID-19 vaccine since December 2020, which includes 89.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and older who’ve received one dose, 85.7 per cent of the same group who’ve received two shots, and about 158,000 children between the ages of five and 11 who’ve received a pediatric dose.

More to come …

hissawi@postmedia.com

@hamdiissawi

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