Student management

Edmonton Public student illnesses top Omicron

The number of sick Edmonton public school students continues to rise, with Friday’s truancy rate surpassing the number of illnesses reported during the Omicron wave in January.

Edmonton Public reported an overall absenteeism rate of 10.04% or 11,341 students, surpassing the previous pandemic record of January 21 of 9.92%.

These statistics include all illnesses, not just COVID-19 or other respiratory infections.

According to district data, elementary schools in Belgravia and Avonmore had some of the highest absenteeism rates at 27 and 22 percent, respectively.

Pediatrician Dr Tehseen Ladha says the usual peak for respiratory viruses in children is in January or February and lasts a few weeks.

“(It) is usually not that bad,” said Ladha, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Alberta.

“This year, it (has been) since September,” she added. “We have seen sick children since the start of school again and again and quite seriously ill.”

“I’ve been practicing for 10 years, and in that decade I’ve never seen a virus hit children with such frequency so early in the year.”

Having more sick children – with COVID-19, influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – as hospitals continue to face staffing shortages, COVID-19 patients and the pandemic backlog of procedures is worrying for Ladha.

“How are we going to be able to treat all these children in the emergency room, and how are we going to admit them? ” she asked.

“EXCESSIVE FOR WHAT IS THE STANDARD”

Many parents worry that their children will get sick every few weeks and that it could impact the rest of their family and even the time their guardians have to be off work, says Wing Li, spokesperson for Support. our Students.

Whatever support was given to parents taking sick leave or time off work to care for their children during the pandemic has since stopped, Li added.

“It disappeared because people think we’ve gone back to regular programming, and that’s just not the case,” she said. “We are adapting as best we can, but we need Public Health and Alberta Health Services to tell us what is going on.”

Li has heard that parents want the province to provide more funding to classrooms to help teachers and teacher aides catch up with students as they continue to miss class.

“Students with one disease after another are piling up,” she said. “That seems excessive for what is the norm.”

“Students who aren’t healthy don’t learn,” Li added.

Dr. Ladha said the province should consider implementing short-term masking mandates until respiratory illness peaks for the season and helping schools improve air filtration systems.

“It’s really a public health issue,” Ladha added. “We are looking at the entire child population that is affected by these serious and frequent viruses, whether it is influenza, RSV or COVID.

“There are things we can do to prevent this from getting worse, and at the moment none of this is being done.”

PROVINCE KEEPS TO DECISION TO END SCHOOL MASK MANDATES

The province is experiencing an “early rise” in seasonal infections, including influenza, COVID-19 and RSV, acknowledged Steve Buick, press secretary for Health Minister Jason Copping.

“The increase in non-COVID viruses is not surprising given the low levels over the past two years,” Buick said in a statement to CTV News Edmonton. “Levels will fluctuate over time and between communities. We encourage Albertans to assess their risk at all times and take appropriate precautions, including wearing a mask if they wish.”

He said high levels of vaccination coverage and “wider access to effective treatments” help Albertans manage respiratory infections.

“The province is closely monitoring the situation in schools,” Buick added. “We stand by the decision to end school mask mandates in February, based on the preponderance of evidence that schools were not a major factor in overall transmission or impact on our communities.

“Evidence since then supports the decision: removing mandatory masking in schools made no difference to overall virus transmission and hospital admissions, which were declining at the time and continued to decline for several weeks after the change.”

WHAT ARE SCHOOL DISTRICTS DOING IN RESPONSE?

CTV News Edmonton has reached out to Edmonton-area school authorities to see what they recommend as truancy rates rise.

All schools report absenteeism rates to AHS, and if any school reports an absenteeism rate greater than 10% due to illness, the provincial health authority declares an outbreak and sends letters and information resources for parents.

As of Friday, 65 schools in the Edmonton area were in outbreak status, up from 22 the previous week.


Edmonton Public School Board

Edmonton Public continued to recommend that parents report their child’s absence and keep sick children home.

“We all continue to play a role in keeping each other safe and healthy,” the EPSB said in a statement.

The decision to suspend an activity or move an event online can be made at the school level, district officials said.


Edmonton Catholic School District

All schools under outbreak status have been instructed to hold Remembrance Day ceremonies and other large assemblies virtually, a division official told CTV News Edmonton.

If a school is in an outbreak, division staff and facility services support them “in managing the outbreak based on their unique circumstances.”


St. Albert Public Schools

The district says all schools have masks available for staff and students.

The division is exploring changes to minimize activities involving students from different grades and potentially reschedule some elementary inter-school pairings.

“Most of our schools will be holding virtual Remembrance Day ceremonies,” a spokesperson said.


With files from Saif Kaiser and Kyra Markov of CTV News Edmonton