School districts in and around Lethbridge are reacting to Saturday’s announcement that COVID-19 rapid screening tests will be expanding across the province.
What started as a pilot project in Calgary last month is now also moving to Edmonton, then Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.
“By using these screen tests in schools, we can potentially detect the virus quickly in students or staff who don’t have symptoms, allowing them to isolate and curb the spread of COVID-19,” Premier Jason Kenney said during Saturday’s news conference.
The province says it will select participants based on factors such as the prevalence of COVID-19 in the school and surrounding communities, and if the school has outbreaks or in-school transmission.
Up to 300 schools in the aforementioned cities and other affected areas will receive a total of 440,000 tests, with a focus on grades 7 to 12.
Although the province didn’t have a specific timeline, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says they are working with testing teams and school boards to get the expansion started “as soon as possible.”
Cheryl Gilmore, superintendent of the Lethbridge School Division, says she was hopeful the weekend announcement would pertain to COVID-19 vaccinations for school staff.
“They’re out there each and every day, working with children,” she said. “They’re front-line workers, certainly, and we believe strongly that they should be put up on the queue for vaccination.”
However, Gilmore says they are waiting on more information about rapid testing and will follow health guidance set out by officials.
“Alberta Health Services (and) Alberta Education sees this as preventative,” she said.
“They’re the experts in the area and so, certainly, again, we will ensure that we (put) practices in place that follow their recommendations.”
While many of its schools aren’t in the four aforementioned cities, the Palliser School Division says it will be considered for the program.
“In speaking to Alberta Education, we are actually included, that if we have schools that are in outbreak status that meet the requirements, we would be considered for support with the rapid testing program,” said superintendent Dave Driscoll.
“Because we have schools that are in proximity to Lethbridge and (many) of our families are involved in Lethbridge business and come and go from the city, it’s very important that we’re included in this.”
Although he agrees this announcement is an appropriate, preventative step, Driscoll is also looking forward to teachers and staff being able to get the needle.
“By no means does it take the place of a vaccine, and our board and our system would appreciate being able to get all our staff in to be vaccinated,” Driscoll said.
The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division was unavailable for an interview Monday but emailed Global News the following statement: “As always, the school division works diligently to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff.”
“Currently, we are waiting for more information regarding the precise plans and processes surrounding the rapid testing that was announced on Saturday, April 10, 2021, by the Alberta government,” it said.
Twelve schools in Lethbridge are listed under outbreak status, with five of those having 10 or more cases.