Hinshaw warns against stigmatizing schools with COVID-19 cases and outbreaks
CALGARY -- Alberta’s first case of community transmission within a school was reported Friday as the province’s top doctor attempted to discourage media attention and urged people not to stigmatize the school.
"Alberta Health Services has identified Alberta's first case of COVID-19 likely transmitted within a school. This is not unexpected and is not a cause for alarm. However, I know many are anxious about school safety and I wanted to share this information with you and talk to you about what it means," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said Friday during a special update to the media.
The community case was discovered at Edmonton Public School's Waverley School, but it's not known if the patient is a student or a staff member. Two cases of COVID-19 have been identified at that school in people who were on the premises while infectious, Hinshaw said.
However, while parents and many others are concerned about student safety in regards to the spread of COVID-19 inside Alberta schools, she said now is not the time to place blame on anyone at the school for the cases.
"As I have stressed with previous outbreaks, it is critical that we do not shame or stigmatize individuals with COVID-19 or their close contacts. COVID-19 is a reality for all of us. These students, staff and all their close contacts should be treated with support and understanding."
She added there is "no evidence" that would lead authorities to believe Waverley School would need to move to a different learning model for students.
"This school has done nothing wrong. This school should not be targeted with accusations of being unsafe."
HINSHAW TARGETS MEDIA COVERAGE
During her update, Hinshaw drew a comparison between the current situation facing Waverley School and that of St. Wilfrid School in Calgary, where six cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed earlier this week.
That institution is now listed under a "watch" status by provincial health officials.
Hinshaw said she hopes the same situation doesn't occur with Waverley School.
"Parents, teachers and students are already worried and trying to work through the challenge of having their school identified in the news. This is made worse by members of the media on site to interview members of the school community," she said.
A lot of the discussion about shaming and stigmatization of certain schools has come from when Hinshaw has spoken with school stakeholders and health workers on-site.
"Just hearing about some of the anxiety that's caused in those local schools when there is a significant amount of attention. The first outbreak we declared was in a high school in Calgary with only two cases who were infectious. That high school received quite a bit of attention that implied to people that people who went to that school weren't safe to be around or the school itself was, perhaps, a bad environment."
She said this caused stress and anxiety among students and parents and, now that a different situation has presented itself at Waverley School, she didn't want that to happen again.
"I want to forestall that natural human interest in getting more of the story but recognizing that these individuals who attend the school are no different than anyone else. They're doing the best they can."
It is critical for the media to report on the realities of the pandemic, Hinshaw added, but said the physical presence of journalists at a location could lead to problems.
"If media were to amplify one perspective over and above others, not telling that whole story. We have 57 schools where there have been exposures and well over 2,000 where there haven't been. The responsibility and role of media is to report all the facts, to make sure the public has access to accurate information, to make sure that information is shared along with a diversity of perspectives and if there are parents or students who want to share their stories, they should not be constrained in doing so, but what is important is to make sure that that is done while respecting the impact that that has on that overall school community."
If people start to blame each other harshly, Hinshaw said that could cause people to not want to get tested for their symptoms and COVID-19 could "go underground."
"It will cause more harm," she said.
Alberta's Education Minister Adriana LaGrange posted about Hinshaw's comments on social media, mirroring her thoughts about how the media coverage has added stress to students and staff members.
Unfortunately for the education minister, her post garnered a number of replies from people who had questions about her response and the UCP government's plan about handling COVID-19 infections in schools.
CTV News attempted to reach both the Calgary Catholic School Division and Calgary Board of Education for comments on Hinshaw's remarks regarding media coverage on school cases and outbreaks.
Both boards were unable to provide comments Friday, but the CCSD said it plans to review her comments and will respond sometime next week.
Alberta reported 107 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, along with one more death, a woman in her 50s in the North Zone.
More than 14,700 people have recovered from the illness while there are 1,424 active cases.
The Edmonton Zone continues to lead the province in active cases, with 711 patients recorded there.