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Wales’ prison inmates could get local election vote by 2022



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The Welsh Government has announced details of its plan to give some prisoners the vote.

Ministers say inmates serving less than four years should be able to vote in local elections from 2022.

A group of ex-offenders told the BBC’s Politics Wales programme that prisoners would vote, but many feel disconnected from politics.

The Welsh Government says it will provide information to prisoners and improve their access to Welsh media.

The plans, outlined in proposed amendments to the Local Government and Elections Bill, would enable certain Welsh prisoners to vote either by proxy or by post.

They would be registered to an address in Wales where they have a connection – such as a family home or previous address – rather than the prison.

Some prisoners can already vote, including those on remand, convicted but not sentenced, in contempt of court, or serving in default of payment for a sum of money.

However, nearly 2,000 prisoners and young people in custody would get the vote in council elections under the new proposals.

Image caption

“It could make a big difference” said ex-offender Jared

Former inmates who spoke to BBC Wales raised the issue of accessing Welsh media that would help make informed choices in Wales-only elections.

Ex-prisoner Jared said: “I think everyone’s going to jump at the chance to vote who’s in prison.

“It’s going to make a big bit of difference – but the freedom of information, and the information that people get, is a problem.

“If you give someone the vote, they’ll use it… even if you want it or not.”

Jared thinks politicians could even canvass votes inside jails, saying: “People can have a voice and explain [to politicians] what people in prisons want. “

Omar, another former inmate, said prison was “a dark, dark place” because of the lack of access to information from the outside world.

He said prisoners aged between 40 and 50 tended to be interested in politics, but those aged between 18 and 25 generally do not care.

Image caption

Omar said a lack of information means younger inmates “don’t care” about elections

“They say no, why should I vote?” said Omar.

“Because people have been caught out, ignored so much, so they need to be aware.”

Prisons in Wales are controlled by the UK government, but the Welsh Government has responsibility over education and healthcare inside Welsh jails.

However, the Prison Reform Trust estimates 37% of Welsh prisoners are held in English prisons.

As there are no women’s prisons in Wales, Alice (not her real name) went to jail in England.

“I wasn’t connected at all to Wales,” she said.

“I was disconnected from politics and the news and everything that was going on in my area, as well as family.

“We could only keep up-to-date with what was going on where we were staying at the time.”

Image caption

Julie James said candidate information can be sent to prisons

Local Government Minister Julie James said work would be carried out to improve access to information about elections.

“Candidate information can be posted out with ballot papers,” she said.

“And when electoral registers send out the information, they can send out candidate statements, so [prisoners] have information about what they are voting on.”

Conservative AM Mark Isherwood questioned whether the practicalities and cost have been fully considered by the Labour Welsh Government.

“Would each prisoner have the right to, say, attend a husting?” he asked.

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Image caption

All inmates in Ireland have been able to vote in elections and referenda since 2007

The Welsh Government said registering and administering voters for council elections will cost about £6,600, with additional costs for updating the electoral register and Welsh language information provision.

Scotland has just made it legal for people serving less than a year in jail to vote but there are no plans to do so as yet in the rest of the UK.

Canada and Switzerland are among countries which have extended the vote, while in Ireland, all inmates – regardless of sentence – have been able to vote in elections and referenda since 2007.

Welsh Assembly members are expected to consider changes to local election voter eligibility in the coming weeks.

Ministers are planning separate legislation after the 2021 Welsh election to allow eligible prisoners to vote in future Senedd polls.

Politics Wales can be seen on BBC One Wales on Sunday 8 March at 10:00 GMT and later on the BBC iPlayer.

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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario electricity rates to go back up as pandemic measures end; StatsCan says pace of economic growth slowed in August; U.S. average daily virus cases rising to 74,000




The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

9:53 a.m.: The seven-day rolling average for daily new coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks from 52,350 to more than 74,180.

That’s according to data through Wednesday from Johns Hopkins University, marking a return to levels not seen since the summer surge. The rolling average for daily new deaths rose over the past two weeks from 724 to 787.

Positive test rates have been rising in 45 states, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Fifteen states have positive test rates of 10% or higher, considered an indicator of widespread transmission.

Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir said earlier his week the proof of the uptick is the rising numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.

The U.S. leads the world with 8.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 228,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic

9:06 a.m.: The global travel and tourism industry is on course to lose 174 million jobs this year if current restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus remain in place, a leading industry group warned Friday.

While alarming, the projection from the World Travel & Tourism Council was lower than previously expected, largely because of a strong recovery in domestic travel in China and rebounds in other countries. In June, the council warned that there could be 197 million job losses worldwide in a sector that many nations are hugely reliant on economically.

Restrictions on travel imposed when the pandemic erupted this year effectively banned flights from abroad and closed down the hospitality sectors in many countries.

9:00 a.m.: Wages and benefits for U.S. workers grew slowly this summer for the second straight quarter, as employers sought to hold the line on pay gains in the midst of the pandemic.

U.S. workers’ total compensation rose 0.5% in the July-September quarter, the Labor Department said Friday, the same as in the April-June quarter. That’s down from 0.8% in the first three months of the year.

For the year ending in September, wages and benefits increased 2.4%, the slowest pace in three years. The data comes from the Labor Department’s Employment Cost Index, which measures pay changes for workers that keep their jobs. The data isn’t affected by the mass layoffs in the spring.

8:54 a.m.: Statistics Canada says the pace of economic growth slowed in August as real gross domestic product grew 1.2 per cent, compared with a 3.1 per cent rise in July.

The agency says overall economic activity was still about five per cent below the pre-pandemic level in February.

8:40 a.m.: Electricity rates are set to rise this weekend in Ontario, with the average customer seeing a nearly two per cent increase to their hydro bill compared to before the pandemic.

Earlier this month, the Ontario Energy Board announced new prices for households and small businesses that take effect on Sunday, Nov. 1.

That’s also the day the provincial government’s COVID-19 rate relief plan, which has been in place since late March, comes to an end.

The relief plan had meant about five million customers subject to so-called “time-of-use” pricing, which varies depending on the day, had instead been paying a flat rate.

That rate was initially 10.1 cents per kilowatt hour, increasing to 12.8 cents in June — well below peak-hour pricing before the pandemic.

On Sunday, those customers will return to time-of-use billing unless they opt out, with prices varying from 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour during off-peak hours up to 21.7 cents during on-peak times.

8:37 a.m.: Like battle-hardened veterans, New York City hospitals and nursing homes are bracing for a potential resurgence of coronavirus patients, drawing on lessons learned in the spring when the outbreak brought the nation’s largest city to its knees.

The new playbook derives from the apocalyptic days of March and April, when testing and resources were scarce, emergency rooms overflowed, and funeral homes stacked corpses in refrigerated trailers.

Those insights, however hard won, make it far less likely that the city’s hospitals would collapse under a second wave of COVID-19, health care leaders said.

Even without a vaccine, doctors are touting increasingly effective coronavirus treatments, three-month supplies of personal protective equipment and contingency staffing plans.

Similar preparations are underway at New York’s hard hit nursing homes, which accounted for a staggering percentage of the state’s coronavirus deaths.

7:55 a.m.: Japan’s coronavirus cases have topped 100,000, nine months after the first case was found in mid-January, the health ministry said Friday.

The country confirmed 808 new cases on Thursday, bringing the cumulative COVID-19 cases to 100,334, including 712 people who were on a cruise ship that was docked off a Japanese port earlier this year.

About one-third of the cases come from Tokyo, where 221 cases were confirmed Thursday, bringing the prefectural total to 30,677, including 453 deaths. Nationwide, Japan has more than 1,700 deaths.

Experts say Japan has so far managed to avoid “explosive” infections as in Europe and the U.S. without enforcing lockdowns, most likely thanks to the common use of face masks and disinfectant, as well as other common preventive measures including social distancing.

7:31 a.m.: German authorities have added almost all Austria and Italy to the list of high-risk areas for COVID-19.

Travellers returning to Germany from countries or regions on the list, which is updated weekly, have to go into 14-day quarantine and take a test for the coronavirus.

Those with negative test results can end their quarantines.

Critics have pointed out that the threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants per week, which is the main criteria for determining which countries appear on the list, has now been passed in much of Germany itself.

Germany’s disease control agency reported Friday that the country saw another new daily record number of confirmed cases, with 18,681. The new cases take the country’s total in the pandemic to almost half a million.

6:45 a.m. The European economy grew by an unexpectedly large 12.7 per cent in the third quarter as companies reopened after severe coronavirus lockdowns, but the rebound is being overshadowed by worries that growing numbers of infections will cause a new downturn in the final months of the year.

The upturn in the July-September quarter — and the worries about what’s ahead — echoed the situation in the United States, where re-openings led to strong third-quarter recovery but didn’t dispel fears for the winter months.

The European rebound, reflected in figures released Friday, was the largest increase since statistics started being kept in 1995. It followed an 11.8 per cent contraction in the second quarter in the 19 European Union member countries that use the euro currency. The April-June period was when restrictions on activities and gatherings were most severe during the first wave of the pandemic. Many economists had expected a rebound of around 10 per cent.

6:35 a.m. Customs agents in the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong have seized 100,000 counterfeit face masks and arrested one person in what the government called the largest operation of its kind on record.

The masks were set to be shipped overseas and had a market value of almost $400,000, the government’s Information Services Department reported Friday.

The masks were seized at a storehouse in Hong Kong on Wednesday after agents received a tip-off, the department said, leading to a further raid on a trading company where a 71-year-old manager was arrested

“Initial investigations revealed that unscrupulous merchants intended to transship the batch of masks overseas for sale and profit. Customs is looking into the source of the face masks involved in the case. Samples have also been sent to a laboratory for safety testing,” the department said in a news release.

6:30 a.m. Fans living in Japan who bought tickets for the postponed Tokyo Olympics have been guaranteed refunds, the local organizing committee said Friday.

This does not apply to fans who have purchased tickets outside Japan through so-called Authorized Ticket Resellers appointed by national Olympic committees. Many have already set terms for refunds, which vary by nation or territory.

Fans in Japan who already know they cannot use their tickets next year can get their money back by applying online for refunds during the period Nov. 10-30. The Paralympic period is Dec. 1-21.

Organizers also said that refunds would be made if limited seating were available at venues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

6:16 a.m. A multi-state coronavirus surge in the countdown to Election Day has exposed a clear split between President Donald Trump’s bullish embrace of a return to normalcy and urgent public warnings from the government’s top health officials.

It’s the opposite of what usually happens in a public health crisis, because political leaders tend to repeat and amplify the recommendations of their health experts, not short-circuit them. “It’s extremely unusual for there to be simultaneous contrary messaging,” said John Auerbach, who heads the nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health.

The Republican president and the health officials appear to be moving farther apart since White House chief of staff Mark Meadows declared last Sunday “we’re not going to control the pandemic.”

Since then, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir has done a round of interviews warning that the country’s situation is “tenuous” but that Americans can indeed control the virus by practicing what he calls the “3W’s” — watching your distance from others, wearing a mask and frequently washing your hands.

6 a.m. As COVID-19 case numbers continue to creep up in much of the country, some parents are feeling spooked about letting their children trick-or-treat on Halloween.

Should they carry on with the door-to-door tradition, or find a different way to celebrate the eerie annual holiday?

While some infectious disease pediatricians say now is not the time for trick-or-treating, especially in COVID hot spots, others contend that the outdoor nature of the activity makes it fairly low-risk.

Dr. Anna Banerji, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health, says trick-or-treating should “probably be cancelled this year.’’

“We’ve … shut down gyms and restaurants (in parts of Ontario and Quebec) to try to control COVID,’’ she said. “So I just don’t think it’s a good idea.’’

Areas with few COVID cases will be safer for trick-or-treaters, Banerji says, but having contact with multiple people, regardless of how brief those interactions are, can carry higher risk in cities with larger concentrations of the virus.

Banerji says it will be tough to keep kids — excited to see their dressed-up counterparts — from congregating on driveways and sidewalks, which will make it harder for parents accompanying them to maintain a safe distance as well.

5:51 a.m. The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, which led months of protests against the small Balkan state’s pro-Western government that was voted out of power at elections in August, has died in hospital after contracting the coronavirus, the church said Friday.



The condition of Bishop Amfilohije deteriorated on Thursday after he developed heavy breathing and chest pains, doctors said. He had been taken to a hospital in the capital, Podgorica, earlier in October after testing positive for the virus.

The church said the 82-year-old died Friday from pneumonia caused by COVID-19.

Ahead of a parliamentary election in August, followers of the Serbian Church led by Amfilohije staged months of protests against a property law adopted by the parliament in December.

The pro-Russian church argued that the law allows the Montenegrin state to confiscate its property as a prelude to setting up a separate Montenegrin church. The government denied that claim.

The protests, some held in defiance of a ban on public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, managed to galvanize the opposition, which narrowly won the vote.

5:30 a.m. Canada’s failure to meet its immigration targets due to the pandemic is offering some relief in terms of rent affordability. But it won’t negatively impact the Canadian detached housing market — at least in the near term, say real estate experts and economists.

As Ottawa prepares to announce its new immigration targets in the coming days, real estate company Royal LePage released a statement on Thursday urging the government to continue pro-immigration policies

“Sustained and robust immigration levels are vital for the Canadian economy and the long-term health of the real estate market,” it said.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski

5:27 a.m. Premier Doug Ford says he’s looking at a more “surgical” approach to COVID-19 restrictions with the latest computer models predicting Ontario will have between 800 and 1,200 new infections daily for the next four weeks.

“We are seeing continued growth,” Dr. Dirk Huyer, the provincial chief of outbreak response, told a briefing on the modelling Thursday as the province saw an overnight jump of 100 cases to 934 — the fourth-highest of the pandemic after a record of 1,042 was set Sunday.

“There is some slowing of that growth…it speaks to the efforts everybody is making,” Huyer added.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson

5:26 a.m. As spooky season reaches its climax in a particularly frightening year, some historians argue the COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to explore a different side of Halloween.

The holiday has no fixed meaning and has been celebrated differently over the centuries, so there’s a deep well of traditions to draw from — including some that honour the dead, said Nick Rogers, a professor at York University who wrote the book on the history of Halloween.

The holiday is linked to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which has some of Halloween’s celebratory spirit but is also a day to remember loved ones who have died.

“Halloween is about everything you want to avoid in a pandemic. It’s about scaring us. It’s about risk-taking. It’s about inversion,” he said. “…In a way, Day of the Dead is a much better holiday for addressing these things.”

Officials across the country have said that those who want to celebrate Halloween will need to make sacrifices — of varying degrees, depending on location — in order to keep their loved ones safe.

Those in some COVID-19 hot spots have been urged to forego trick-or-treating altogether, while others in regions with few cases are being told to keep their parties small.

For instance, in Quebec — Canada’s COVID-19 epicentre — children will be permitted to trick-or-treat with members of their own household, but adults can’t celebrate in groups.

“This year, Halloween is only for kids,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault said earlier in the month.

British Columbia’s top doctor has also ruled out massive Halloween bashes, saying families need to keep gatherings to their immediate households and their “safe six,” though trick-or-treating is still a go.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have given trick-or-treating the green light as well, so long as people keep a physical distance from those not in their household.

Meanwhile, Ontario and New Brunswick are taking a regional approach to holiday regulations, barring trick-or-treating in hot spots.

5:24 a.m. Canada’s tradition of welcoming newcomers with open arms is being challenged in an era of closed borders.

How great that challenge is will become apparent today as the federal Liberals release a status update on immigration to Canada so far this year and a plan for how many they intend to admit next year.

The plan for 2020 had been to settle around 341,000 new permanent residents, a goal in keeping with ongoing increases to immigration levels for the last several years.

This year’s number, however, was released literally on the eve of Canada beginning to cut itself entirely off from the outside world to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The day after, Parliament would close its doors, the week after the border with the U.S. slammed shut to all but essential workers and travel restrictions reduced air travel to Canada so sharply that airports became ghost towns.

5:23 a.m. More federal financial support is on its way to help Indigenous people and communities cope with the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce today additional funding, targeted specifically at child care, education and infrastructure.

The new money is on top of more than $2.2 billion the federal government has already allocated to help Indigenous and northern communities get through the health crisis.

Among other things, the government has committed $685 million for the Indigenous Communities Support Fund, which includes funding to address food insecurity, education and other support for children.

It is spending another $650 million to help Indigenous communities respond to the pandemic and for income support.

And it has devoted $122 million to help ensure a safe return to schools on reserves.

5:20 a.m. As the global COVID-19 pandemic carries on with its deadly toll, most economic and business forecasts assume there will be an effective vaccine against the virus, likely by the middle of next year.

But what if there isn’t?

If those forecasts are wrong, everything from economic growth to stock and bond prices could be affected, economists and market strategists say. Industries which are already struggling could be put into a permanent tailspin. Stock prices, especially in the U.S., would be set for a tumble. Local government tax revenues could also take a hit, as vacancies rise and the value of commercial real estate falls.

Read the full story from the Star’s Josh Rubin

Read Thursday’s rolling file

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Groups scramble to find alternatives to school gyms




Gym time has become a hot commodity in pandemic New Brunswick after the Department of Education closed all of its gyms to community groups. 

That means children’s athletic associations, youth groups, and anyone who previously operated out of a school, are all scrambling to find alternative locations. 

Those with facilities to offer have been inundated with inquiries. 

Dave Theriault of the YMCA of Greater Moncton said he received a “flood of requests” when the province announced the decision to close school gymnasiums to outside groups. 

“That’s when the flood … of requests came in,” said Theriault, the Y’s vice-president of programs and community initiatives. 

“Because traditionally, I would never get that many requests from outside agencies … or private people just to use the facilities.”

Basketball New Brunswick says a quarter of players may not be able to play this year because of a lack of facilities. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Theriault said he’s fielded inquiries from a wide variety of groups — from organized youth sports groups and clubs to individual enthusiasts just looking to play a pickup game of hoops with a bunch of friends.

According to the Education Department’s Return to School policy, even parents aren’t allowed into school gyms to watch their children play for school teams. 

When asked about the decision last month, deputy education minister George Daley said it came down to cleaning. 

“We were worried about having enough resources to keep schools clean if we allow spectators in. So we made the choice to not allow them in.” 

Daley said it was important to “protect the sanctity of the bubbles,” by limiting the number of people entering school buildings.

Spokesperson Tara Chislett said Thursday that the Education Department will re-evaluate the decision, but community groups “should not expect any access to school facilities any earlier than January 2021.”

Groups that used to use schools have been trying to find alternatives at community centres, churches, arenas, and other places. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

She said the priority is keeping schools clean and safe for students. 

“At this time, the capacity to maintain cleaning and disinfecting standards with existing resources is limited,” she wrote in an email. 

She said the department is “actively recruiting additional custodial staff.”

Children missing out

The director of operations for Basketball New Brunswick is worried that a quarter of all children won’t be able to play basketball this year. 

“There’s just a lot of kids that would normally be bouncing a ball that aren’t doing it,” said Tyler Slipp. 

He said about 95 per cent of his members use school gyms, and all have had to scramble to find other places to operate. 

“We’ve beaten the doors down on churches, community centres — basically anywhere we can find that’s got two hoops, so that kids can be active,” said Slipp.

With so many groups in the same position, it hasn’t been easy. 

Exacerbating the situation is that some facilities that have gyms and multipurpose rooms have also closed to outside groups. 

Moncef Lakouas, executive director of the Moncton Boys and Girls Club, said his facility isn’t open to outside users either, exacerbating an already-difficult situation for youth and community groups. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

The Boys and Girls Club of Moncton is one of them. 

Executive director Moncef Lakouas said he would love to accommodate groups displaced by the Education Department’s decision, but the club, too, has shut its doors to outside users. 

Lakouas said the priority is to ensure the facility is safe for children to continue accessing in-house programming. 

Jocelyn Cohoon, the director of Leisure Services for the City of Moncton, said her staff is working with various community groups to find alternatives. 

Cohoon said some city facilities aren’t being used as much because of COVID-19 restrictions and have been “repurposed.” 

The Coliseum, for example, isn’t seeing the amount of traffic it usually does, so the city is setting up “temporary space” that can be used for community groups in the short term. 

But other communities aren’t so lucky. 

Slipp said only about half the basketball associations in the province are able to operate “in some capacity.” 

Tyler Slipp, the director of operations for Basketball New Brunswick, said only about half of all associations are operating ‘in some capacity.’ (Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The recently merged associations in Fredericton, for example, have delayed the season until January. 

In a Facebook message to parents, the organization said the move is necessary because of the lack of availability of gyms.  

In a message sent to basketball parents in Moncton, interim president Tim Wallace said his organization has been working with recreation officials with the City of Moncton to find alternatives for the 650 children registered with the association. 

“It’s been a significant struggle to try to find gym time, particularly considering that there are other community groups who also want to use the gyms in the city,” said Wallace. 

They’ve been creative with some spaces, said Wallace, but the important thing is that everyone will play basketball this year. 

As a doctor, Wallace said it was apparent to him that children needed to return to their normal activities for their own mental health. 

He said it’s been “eye-opening how much it was needed.”    

It’s not just a basketball game, said Wallace.

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Calgary families concerned over delays in communication of COVID-19 cases in schools




Some Calgary families are questioning the reliability of the how school boards and Alberta Health Services handle COVID-19 contact tracing because they’re experiencing long delays in being notified when their children are considered close contacts.  

On Monday, Patrick Palardy heard from other parents that a child in his son’s Grade 1 class at Rosemont School had tested positive for COVID-19. 

“The first thing we did was followup through the grapevine and got actual confirmation from the parent of the child that tested positive,” he said. 

Three days later, Palardy says, they’ve yet to be notified by the school or AHS about the case — and have made the decision to self-isolate until they do. 

“Our fear is that if this information isn’t able to be shared in a timely fashion, people can be spreading [the coronavirus] asymptomatically during this period with no knowledge,” he said.

“I know that a lot of families have grandparents and auxiliary family members helping with child care and pick up some stuff. And I’m sure a lot of them have pre-existing conditions. To not share that in a timely fashion feels dangerous, verging on irresponsible.”

Palardy says that when he spoke with his child’s principal on Thursday morning, he got little information. 

“Essentially she was saying that she couldn’t do anything until she got, I don’t want to say permission, but something like that, from AHS to be able to share [information] with the parents,” he said. 

In a letter from Western Canada High School’s principal, shared with CBC News by a parent, a number of students were notified Wednesday that they’d been identified as a close contact of a student who had COVID-19 while contagious at school on Oct. 15 and 16 — more than 10 days prior.

They were told they must now begin a period of isolation. But isolation would last for only four days and not the usual two weeks. 

“Your child’s isolation life/end date is October 31,” it read. 

Patrick Palardy says he and his family have made the decision to self-isolate after confirming a positive case of COVID-19 in his son’s class. They have yet to be notified by his son’s school or Alberta Health Services. (Submitted by Patrick Palardy)

Angela Jacobs, manager AHS’s communicable diseases control branch, says they’re trying to aim for a 48-hour turnaround time on connecting with schools once a positive case is confirmed in the school population. 

“We are doing our best to reach out to the cases themselves within a 24-hour time frame, but it does take some time,” she said. “We will see that schools will sometimes know about that positive case before we’ve had a chance to connect with them.”

But AHS says with the recent surge in positive cases and outbreaks across the province, it is seeing an increased demand for contact tracing,

“As individuals are increasing the number of places they visit and people they interact with, contact tracing is becoming increasingly complex and requires additional time to complete,” an AHS spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to CBC News.

“AHS has a task force dedicated to co-ordinating our efforts on school COVID-19 issues [and] works very closely with school superintendents and individual schools. We continue to refine processes to ensure students, parents and staff are informed of a potential exposure as soon as possible and provide them with all of the information they need.”

On Tuesday at a public meeting of the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), the superintendent of school improvement, Joanne Pittman, said the board takes direction from AHS when a positive COVID-19 case is reported.

“While we have certainly had situations where our community is informing or taking their own steps regarding positive cases, we take direction from AHS when they complete their investigation, and then move forward with that immediately upon notice,” she said. 

But on Thursday, the CBE said principals were informed of a change to the process. 

“Moving forward, the school will send parents a pre-notification message when a positive case is reported within a school community by a parent or staff member,” reads the emailed statement.

“Once AHS has completed its investigation, and provided direction to the school, further communication will be sent with quarantine or self-isolation direction if required.”

The Calgary Board of Education says AHS leads investigations when positive cases are confirmed in school communities and it is AHS that directs who is required to quarantine and for what period of time. 

“We continue to take this direction from AHS, but this adjustment in our process responds to feedback we have heard from parents and staff around the importance of timely notification,” said the CBE. “We have confirmed this approach with AHS and received support from the zone medical officer of health.”

Mona Khouri-Akl is the mother of two students attending Bishop O’Byrne High School, which is in the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD).

Since Monday, families at the school have been informed of at least three cases in the school community. 

Khouri-Akl says she’s worried information isn’t getting to families quickly enough.

“After Thanksgiving, we knew of a student who went into isolation by herself and requested the COVID testing because she was seeing symptoms and she tested positive,” she said. “She did notify the school, but the school took no step. Knowing that several people from the school were close contact.”

“She’s been two weeks in isolation since Thanksgiving and then she gets a call from the school this week telling her to be in isolation because she has a confirmed case in one of her classes,” she said. “I mean, I can’t understand how come the school does not track properly if a student informs the school they are in isolation for two weeks. Why is she being notified to be in isolation again?”

Khouri-Akl says that in a few instances this week her kids have known about the cases in the school through word of mouth before parents and families are getting any information from the school. 

COVID-19 cases in Alberta as of Thursday, Oct. 29. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

An emailed statement to CBC News from a CCSD spokesperson says the first case at Bishop O’Byrne was diagnosed on Oct. 24, five days ago, and that the school was notified late Sunday night. 

Two letters from the school, supplied to CBC by Khouri-Akl, went home on Monday indicating two cases had been identified. A third letter went home on Tuesday notifying parents of a third case. 

“I’ve heard we have a fourth case confirmed at the school and we did not receive any letter from the school,” she said.

But later in the day on Thursday, following her interview with CBC, Khouri-Akl received another letter from the school indicating there were now six confirmed cases at Bishop O’Byrne, putting it on the province’s watch list.

It said that there are now over 300 student and approximately 16 staff members self-isolating. The school joined the ranks fo St. Francis in making the decision earlier in the week to end fall athletic programs and discontinue school club gatherings. 

“Until we see a drop in positive cases at Bishop O’Byrne,” wrote principal Monique Baker.  

Khouri-Akl says she was also disappointed that the letters from the school did not indicated when the infected students had been in school while contagious. 

“We need more transparency with us parents. They’re not being transparent with us,” she said. “I don’t care about knowing which students got it but we need proper information to assess the situation ourselves and make the proper decision.”

The Calgary Catholic School District says it notifies parents about their child’s return to school date, but not the date of exposure. 

“AHS works with the individual families considered close contacts.”

If it is identified that the case is a student or staff member who was at school while infectious, AHS says it notifies the superintendent and school administration.

“AHS public health works with schools to determine which students and/or staff have been in close contact with a positive case. Public health then notifies all of those identified close contacts of the positive case, via email if the school has provided email addresses to AHS. Where email addresses are not available, AHS instead calls all identified close contacts.”

Recently, AHS said it implemented an SMS text system to quickly notify individuals of their positive COVID-19 test results.

“This means that people are getting test results 24/7 and receive the instructions to immediately isolate. As such, when students test positive for COVID-19, parents often receive a text message ahead of being phoned by AHS,” reads the AHS statement.

“Prior to receiving a call from AHS, schools who hear of a positive result can also get support by contacting AHS’s co-ordinated early response and identification line at 1-844-343-0971 or their established local public health contact.”

On Thursday afternoon, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said starting Monday the province will implement a new symptom list for all Albertans under 18. 

Runny nose and sore throat will be removed from the list of symptoms that require mandatory isolation for children. But Hinshaw said that won’t apply to people who have had a known exposure.

The loss of taste and smell will also be added to the list of symptoms. 

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