Edmonton public pupil absences again at Omicron-wave ranges
The number of Edmonton public students absent from school because of illness is at a level not seen since the Omicron COVID-19 wave in January.
On Tuesday, 8,237 students throughout the city were absent due to illness, representing about 7.54 per cent of Edmonton Public Schools’ total student body. The number went up by about 500 on Wednesday. The absentee rate for the Edmonton Catholic Schools District was even higher, at 9.6 per cent.
On its website, the public division categorizes student absences as either COVID-19 related or cases of “other illness.”
Only a small percentage of families are reporting that their child is sick with COVID-19 or a close contact: 0.06 per cent on Tuesday, and 0.07 per cent on Wednesday. The rest of absences were categorized as other illnesses.
The level of illness-related absences is the highest seen this school year, and the highest it’s been since Jan. 28 when 8.31 per cent of students were absent. The month of October saw the highest number of average student absences in 2022 except for January, when the return to classrooms after the holiday break was delayed because of the Omicron variant.
“Our Division is seeing a higher amount of student absences in schools,” an EPSB spokesperson told CTV News in a statement. “We all continue to play a role in keeping one another safe and healthy and we appreciate that families are keeping their children home when sick. We also appreciate that parents are notifying schools when their child is absent.”
According to an epidemiologist, the early data suggests the rise in illness could be a result of COVID-19.
“We have increasing evidence that, like measles, COVID-19 hobbles the immune system,” University of Toronto’s Colin Furness told CTV News Edmonton.
“It impairs the immune system, which means that after COVID is done and gone, you are more susceptible to other kinds of infections, and that may well be a bigger problem in children. So we’re seeing a lot of respiratory illness, far more than could be accounted for in any other way.”
‘JOLTS US BACK INTO REALITY’
While Alberta school divisions no longer receive COVID-19 data from the province, AHS does notify a school community of an outbreak when 10 per cent or more of a school’s total student population is absent.
On Tuesday, Edmonton public school division’s website showed 51 schools with an absenteeism rate of 10 per cent or higher. The levels of absence ranged from 10.02 per cent to 19.02 per cent at Avonmore Elementary School.
Of those 51 schools, 11 had more than 15 per cent of their student bodies absent.
“It jolts us back into reality and the reminder that we’re still in a pandemic,” Wing Li, a spokesperson for the Support our Students Alberta group, told CTV News Edmonton.
She wants to see the health ministry provide more guidance to families and the provincial government provide more resources for schools to support kids who’ve experienced delays in their learning.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s anyone really at the helm right now,” Li said.
“I think they’ve abandoned us under this guise of back to normalcy. We know it’s not normal. We’re dealing with illness upon illness but no help is there.”
AHS confirmed to CTV News Edmonton on Sept. 21 that 22 letters were sent to families about respiratory illness outbreaks at schools in the Edmonton Zone during a two-week period. At the time, AHS said it is not uncommon to see an increase in respiratory illness in the fall and winter. AHS could not specify what the respiratory illness was, as students were not tested during these outbreaks.
Furness, too, said everyone, from the public to schools to the provincial government, should be taking action to prevent illness rates from climbing higher.
“Mask wearing, we know, works well when the right kinds of masks are worn and everybody is doing it. There’s no question,” Furness commented.
“We don’t want to live our entire lives behind a mask, however, it would be very simple to look at wastewater signals and say when they reach a certain threshold, we mask for two weeks, and when they come back down, we can take masks off.”
CATHOLIC DISTRICT REPORTS 9.6 PER CENT ABSENTEE RATE
The absentee rate for Edmonton Catholic Schools was 9.6 per cent, or approximately 4,300 students, as of Nov. 1.
The district confirmed the numbers to CTV News Edmonton in a statement Thursday evening.
“We continue to encourage students who are not feeling well to stay home from school until symptoms resolve,” said Christine Meadows, ECSD spokesperson. “We know this is one of the most important and effective ways we can prevent the spread of illness in our school community.
“We are seeing many families make this decision and we want to thank them for their support and understanding.”