A public health official in Canada recently announced a head-scratching new policy relating to schools and the COVID-19 pandemic that is sure to spark controversy among the public.
What are the details?
While speaking to reporters last week, Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw indicated that moving forward, all individuals who are absent from school due to illness but decline to take a COVID-19 test will be counted as if they had tested positive for the virus.
"So we do have that framework where schools, if they see that there are an increased number of children who are ill because of respiratory illness — or teachers or staff — they can work with Alberta Health Services," Hinshaw said. "In some ways that is adding an additional layer of protection, because if individuals choose to not get tested for COVID but are home with an illness, they're now counted in the list as part of that outbreak."
"And so it's less dependent on needing a test to be a part of identifying where there is an issue," she added.
"In schools, again, we are taking the approach that an illness that fits that definition — a respiratory illness — is treated the same way whether its someone who has been diagnosed with COVID or not."
Hinshaw noted that her team is working with education officials to determine if any adjustments need to be made to the approach.
The policy appears to be part of a new government initiative to help schools track whether an outbreak is under way on their campuses and consequently whether a shift to increased online learning is needed.
According to CBC, Alberta's return-to-school plan, released in August, ended contact tracing in schools and no longer required schools to notify each other of known COVID-19 cases. But that decision angered some members of the community who argued the government is not doing enough to protect educational institutions.
So in response, Alberta Health Services now instructs schools to alert them if 10% or more of their student and staff population are absent with a respiratory illness, regardless of whether or not it is confirmed to be COVID-19. In the event an outbreak is declared, a medical officer may then recommend additional safety measures to the school.
But CBC reported that the policy is not going over well: "Parents and staff now say that they're receiving vague notices about outbreaks that don't specify whether or not cases of COVID-19 are present in the school."
"This is going to create misunderstandings on the part of parents, that they may underestimate the risk at school if they receive this letter and return," one parent told the news outlet.