Students learn about infection control in an Ontario school before the 1918 influenza pandemic (Photo: City of Toronto Archives).

Alberta has been relatively lucky up to now with the impact of the global coronavirus epidemic on its population.

Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party Government are ready to bet your life that good luck will continue.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Desperate to relaunch the economy but ideologically opposed to spending much money on government services to make the reopening safe, the premier and his party are determined to send three quarters of a million children and youths back to school in September — never mind the troubling midsummer surge in COVID-19 cases hitting the province right now.

Don’t worry about it, Mr. Kenney implied during Tuesday’s daily COVID-19 briefing, at which he trotted out Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to announce the school reopening plan, which sounded pretty much like any other year’s back-to-school plan.

“The overwhelming evidence is that schools can be operated safely with little health risk for children and teachers and low risk of causing serious outbreaks in the communities that surround them,” the premier told the credulous media on the phone lines, pointing to studies this spring from several European countries.

Europe isn’t Alberta, of course, and for some reason Mr. Kenney didn’t mention the large South Korean study cited by the New York Times on July 18 that concluded “children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.”

In other words, the Times cautioned, “the findings suggest that as schools reopen, communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages.”

So despite the premier’s confidence, the auguries are not auspicious for a reopening in which school operations will be “nearly normal” and the government isn’t prepared to spend the money needed to ensure physical distancing, more aggressive cleaning or even to provide masks, let alone require students to wear them.

Nor have been Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw’s reassurances been particularly reassuring lately.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

“We heard from Albertans that they didn’t need formal restrictions to protect each other,” she tweeted yesterday. “Now is the time to show that is correct.”

“The best way to have safe & healthy schools this fall is to start the school year with a low count of cases,” she continued in a tweet thread. “New measures will require students & staff to monitor symptoms daily & stay home if they’re feeling sick. Students must wash or sanitize their hands before & after entering school & classrooms.”

Seriously? Remember, we’re talking about children. You’d almost think the good doctor had been cooped up with the UCP’s operatives so long she’s come down with a case of Stockholm syndrome!

As former Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason responded to Dr. Hinshaw’s commentary, saying that you’ve heard from Albertans is a political statement, something he knows a thing or two about, not a medical observation.

“You’ve now sanctioned the premature opening of packing plants, bars, and now schools,” Mr. Mason said. “Cases are rising again. It appears you are taking orders from Kenny, NOT insisting on the best practices to control the spread.”

Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

When Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling weighed in, he observed “government needs to set and fund clear and specific mandates for risk mitigation.”

“Teachers just want the government to give us a fighting chance to make this work,” he said plaintively. “We believe that with clear, supported measures schools could be a safe space for learning — but outstanding concerns need to be addressed before that can happen.”

Well, we’ll have a chance to see a dress rehearsal of how this might work when the Kenney Government calls about 10,000 nervous civil servants back to their offices, many of them as soon as next Monday.

They are grownups, after all, capable of understanding the risks and governing themselves accordingly. And their numbers are much smaller. If that small-scale dress rehearsal for September results in another spike in COVID-19 cases, it doesn’t bode well for Alberta’s fall and winter.

Which brings us to the question of what parents will do this September, and how the Kenney Government will respond.

Former Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Will significant numbers of parents who have the means to make the choice keep their kids home and reluctantly home-school them until there’s a vaccine?

Consider this, when schools remained open in Chicago during the 1918 influenza epidemic, absentee rates were 30 per cent by mid-October, and had hit 50 per cent by the end of that month. Of course, in those days, more households had only one breadwinner.

In Ontario, schools also opened that year in September, but some had to be closed again for periods of one week to three months in response to the epidemic, the report of the Ontario minister of education for 1918 noted. (In addition to the epidemic, a world war and the “call of Cupid” also hindered adequate staffing of the province’s schools that year, the minister complained.)

If enough Alberta parents in 2020 keep their kids home too, will the UCP cut funding to schools with lower than expected enrolment? School funding is no linger adjusted based on the actual headcount, but it’s hard to imagine this government in particular wouldn’t be tempted to cut anyway.

And would that funding be restored when students start showing up again after their parents burn out or a vaccine becomes available?

Join the Conversation


  1. Executive Summary: “You’d almost think the good doctor had been cooped up with the UCP’s operatives so long she’s come down with a case of Stockholm syndrome!”

    For Dummies: People are going to die!


  2. I would like to be optimistic about reopening schools, as some other places have done ok with this and I believe it can be ok, if done properly. However, I am also realistic, Kenney and his UCP gang seem have a knack for taking a situation on the edge and making it worse, not better.

    I realize they are not the best at making government work, because in their hearts they don’t believe it can. Also, they seem reluctant to enforce reasonable minor reatrictions as appropriate. If they chafe at something minor like wearing masks, how can we expect them to do anything more difficult?

    My suspicion is they will again try take the easy and cheap way out, which is in part why things in Alberta after starting out not so bad are now getting much worse.

  3. I don’t suppose kenney cares much about the individual citizen drone or their offspring, provided he can persuade them to sing “For he’s a jolly good fellow” maskless on cue. A healthy dislike of eastern Canadians for having “sponged off” Albertans while the local environment was systematically ruined especially in the tarsands area and with fresh water resources used blindly for processing the same, is also de rigeur.

    The contrast in the lack of planning between the laissez-faire re-opening non-plan for Alberta schools (and Ontario’s run by Doug Fraud), and that of NL, NB and now NS is striking. Apparently you have to be comparatively poor to actually care about your neighbour.

    As for Dr Henshaw, who for some reason features mightily on CBC TV News network down here in the far east, goodness knows what has got into her. I disregard her blathering entirely. The contrast between Henshaw and Henry next door in BC is vivid. I haven’t got the foggiest clue who the chief public health officer is in Ontario, because old Dougie likes to hog the limelight.

    Meanwhile, the USA is undergoing suppression by Trump’s unidentifiable sci-fi clad robocops in “liberal” cities. How ole Jason must wish he could deploy his version of the brownshorts on parts of Edmonton, and take Nenshi into UCP custody for re-programming.

    Meanwhile federally, we have the two top Liberals unable to distinguish right from wrong on a personal ethical basis, going beyond even Dingwall’s “I’m entitled to my entitlements” ethos, so much so that they’re sitting ducks for the RCMP, CSIS and CSEC to continue to illegally spy on Canadians, while Freeland and her ilk furnish us with a foreign policy entirely 100% out of step with the empty blatherings on respect for First Nations and ending systemic racism they deploy on the home market. So they’ll happily let kenney run like a wild animal in Alberta. One can only assume that the relatively generous propping up of the economy during Covid-19 was ordered by the money crowd, who foresaw rack and ruin of their own interests if it didn’t happen.

    1. I share your frustration Bill.

      If kenney is running wild in Alberta as you say, then the fault lays entirely at the foot of Albertans. They voted for a fascist who was under several RCMP investigations – during the campaign no less. And, they still voted for him.

      I agree the federal liberals showed poor judgment, but they aren’t letting kenney run wild. Stupid Albertans are doing that all by themselves.

  4. School funding is based on enrollment as of September 30. However, parents will have to decide before then if they want homeschool funding. It is $850 per student, and a lot of families could use that money, if they will be homeschooling their children anyways by October. Send in your notification form, peeps. The Alberta Homeschooling Association is there for you.

    Bus fees for the CBE have gone up dramatically. Parents have been told the buses will be full, which means three to a seat for the younger ones. No physical distancing at all. This is a deal-breaker for many.

    Music teachers and physical education teachers could be laid off. What is there for them to do? We’ve heard that singing and wind instruments will not be allowed, nor will physical education. These classes are the only reason some kids want to go to school.

    Of course, many believe the UCP has a plan to defund public schools during this pandemic, so choose carefully, parents. Your public school might be quite different after this. Whatever you do, please don’t allow your children to watch the legislature TV broadcasts, because they will learn how to throw tantrums and call others a variety of insulting names.

    Good luck with the extra cleaning, teachers. I’m sure you can do all that during your spares. Please can you bring the cleaning supplies from home, because there’s no money in the budget for these things? Oh, wait. Your spares were eliminated years ago. Don’t worry, though, there’s an unused mobile tent hospital in a parking lot if you get sick.

    All this is changing day by day, so who knows?

    It sure does sound like Dr. Hinshaw’s Twitter account has been taken over by the issues managers. That’s why Tweeters are encouraging Dr. Hinshaw to blink twice at the next press conference if she’s being held against her will. They will rescue her! Some may be regretting those Dr. Hinshaw T-shirts they bought, because Adriana says this whole school thing is all Dr. Dee’s doing. But then, the Premier Kenney said something about a conspiracy of “dastardly grandmothers” yesterday, and Adriana is a grandmother. You can’t make this stuff up.

  5. I am especially galled by the fact that the government has a fund businesses can tap into to help defray the extra costs of operating during Covid but they won’t provide funds for schools.

    When Covid first hit, we were told to self isolate for 14 days if we started feeling a variety of symptoms. Is that still in play? Assuming it is, teachers who in earlier times would work while they had a mild cold, or perhaps miss a couple of days, will now miss two weeks. I don’t know where schools are going to all the substitute teachers they are going to need.

    1. Many substitute teachers are retired teachers, at the greatest risk of severe illness from Covid-19. They might be retired substitute teachers soon.

  6. When the government brought in their budget in late February, Jason Kenney said his government will be obsessed with jobs. At the time he said it like it was a good thing, but the reality is that obsessions are generally considered to be a minor personality flaw because it implies the person with the obsession is not paying attention to other things going on around them.

    Jason’s claim to be obsessed with jobs could wind up being the defining trait of his premiership, and not in the way he intended.

    1. Yes, kenney is obsessed with jobs, but not in the way most people think. He’s obsessed with killing jobs (350,000 and counting). It would be nice if he were obsessed with creating jobs instead.

  7. CV19 is a series of tests at which some jurisdictions do better than others, depending on the extent authorities can encourage citizens to comply and cooperate with pandemic protocols.

    The first test is acknowledgement. Almost every country—with the exception of Taiwan, perhaps, which implemented strict restrictions before registering a single case of CV19 infection—delayed to some extent and implemented restrictive protocols in varying degrees of initial reluctance—just like the first day of school for most kids; some leaders like in the USA and Brazil initially denied the existence, then, after fatalities mounted, the seriousness of the disease, critically delaying, ultimately failing the acknowledgment test. They now count among the worst infected nations. Failing this first test makes success at the following tests much less likely. Some, like Donald Trump, have to do the test over again and are way behind their peers as a result. One hopes they can catch up.

    The second test deals with complacency, fatigue and outright rejection of CV19 protocols among citizens—the test we are currently taking. Surges in CV19 cases are directly correlated with failure to stick to protocols, and obviously it’s much more difficult to pass the test—that is, maintain protocols even when they inevitably become difficult—if the first test is a failure. Summer is but half over, customary summer socializing is tempting after months of restrictions, but doing so is very risky if protocols aren’t fully observed. It goes without saying care and attention are most difficult to achieve if one persists in denying or dismissing the seriousness of the pandemic in the first place—that is, if one hasn’t graduated from grade one yet.

    The third test is school openings. Suggestions that it can be done safely are suspect when mixed with notions that it will be easy, that dismiss epidemiological aspects of schooling human vectors, that seize poorly supported theories about susceptibility and contact spreading, that are predicated on epidemiologically irrelevant ideals of ‘freedom’ and, again, obviously, that take the uneducated view. This test is still almost entirely speculative at the moment and squabbling over grades in the preceding two tests makes any conjecture trebly suspect. In jurisdictions where trial classes were held at the tail-end of the last school year, the lessons learned are that it’s more complicated and difficult to school safely than first presumed. Everyone really needs to have passed the first two grades first to have any hope of succeeding at this and the even more difficult fourth grade of the living-in-pandemic test.

    The fourth test is the usual flu season which can be more-or-less bad depending on the strain, the extent to which people socialize, go to work or school while sick and, now, with the added threat of not just catching CV19, but catching both CV19 and influenza at the same time, and the prospect of flu-infected people crowding ERs thinking they might have CV19 (and thereby increasing their risk of getting CV19 and overwhelming hospital capacity). As this test will be administered during the height of the ultra partisan US election (of which CV19 will be the major contention and zenith of confusion and fear) as well as at the point when the epidemiological effect of school openings (if indeed they remain open by this time) will just be getting discernible, as the winter months are just coming on, forcing people indoors in closer proximity (that is, at higher epidemiological risk), and the pre-existing condition of anti-vaxerism adds it’s special touch, the exercise will probably prove to be one of the most difficult—and certainly so if citizens have gotten poor grades in the preceding three tests.

    The fifth test is the so-called ‘Holiday season’ when, after all these problems, the temptation to gather with family and friends—especially with those whom one might not have seen for a long time because of CV19 safety restrictions and very well might never see again (if, for example, they are old or otherwise vulnerable to this or some other disease)—will likely overwhelm even the strongest state’s efforts to invigilate safe protocols. Remember: even the highly authoritarian China was afraid to cancel the last Lunar New Year celebration, plainly not for democratic reasons but, rather, for fear of rebellion if this quasi-religious tradition were interfered with (as it was, while authorizes knew CV19 was on the loose, they allowed the historically largest single mass human migration of citizens flocking to celebrate with relatives, a ‘perfect storm’ which boosted CV19 onto the world stage). No state is likely to do well at this test, but will certainly do very poorly if the preceding four tests have been poorly done.

    Naturally politicians risk getting very poor grades if their prognoses are revealed to have been made for reasons ulterior to public health: if they are late to class, uncooperative, get caught cheating their exams, and are unprepared to meet the more difficult, higher grades, then traditional Winter Solstice celebrations won’t seem like much of a holiday at all, even though, whatever grades the might get, they shall certainly feel like they need one.

    We haven’t even completed the curriculum and already we have to wonder who will graduate come next Spring when CV19 will have dominated the course for a whole tour about the sun.

    Do your homework, my friends! Don’t skip lessons you need to learn to advance; don’t try to cheat: it’ll only be exposed as the tests get harder. And if you need help, seek it from those many, many compatriots who are there to do exactly that. We can do this, but just like any school, we have to do it together in orderly fashion. We’re all undergrads, yet.

  8. For any parents hoping to amp up the homeschool Social Studies curriculum for high school, may I suggest “Henry — CERB Horse” for “Politics in Alberta”?

    Note: keeps the kiddos away from JayKay’s outbursts against women, like calling the opposition leader “short” (ahem, mirror), and grandmothers “dastardly”. Methinks the premier doesn’t want a Portland-style Wall of Moms forming over his recent school decisions. Can’t wait ’til he starts insulting men/dads. @WallOfMoms, @pdxdadpod, here we come. Yellow and orange shirts are go! Get out the leafblowers, because the odors emanating from the legislature are tear-inducing.

  9. When in doubt, always go to the NYT. It was the best source for info about the armada of Sandinista Migs, the super-team of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein’s hair-trigger arsenal of WMDs and proof that the CIA was not involved in trafficking drugs as one leg of the arms-for-hostages-for-arms-for-drugs-for-fun Iran-Contra daisy chain.
    Only .77% of the contacts traced in the study came from the tween-teen killer horde. Even so, the little Typhoid Ji-woos only managed to infect .9% of their contacts outside the home, against an overall rate of 1.9% from the study. Which is, I suppose, neither here nor there. People are going to catch the bug. But what was interesting in this little slice of life, was the fact that outside the home the overall transmission was under 2%, and under 12% inside the home.

    “On the health care front, Kenney outlined what he called a “probable” scenario, based on modelling projections, that suggests Alberta will hit the peak of coronavirus infections in mid-May.
    Under that scenario, by the end of summer, the province could see as many as 800,000 infections, and between 400 and 3,100 deaths.
    He also spoke directly to Albertans, many of whom are self-isolating at home, about a more serious but less likely “elevated scenario,” which would see infections peak at the beginning of May with as many as one million, and between 500 and 6,600 deaths.”

    Remember, this is not influenza! Never, ever make any comparisons to such. Seasonal influenza barely puts any people in the hospital:
    “For every 100 cases of laboratory­confirmed influenza, there
    were 25.7 hospitalizations which was slightly less than most other seasons (Table 1 and Figure 9).”

    Whereas for every 100 cases of Covid, there are 5 hospitalizations.

    Also, Covid sends far, far more people to ICU:
    “There were 228 ICU admissions (5.3 ICU admissions per 100,000 population) among people with laboratory ­confirmed
    influenza this season (Table 1 and Figures 9­10). The population rate (per 100,000 population) and case rate (per 100
    laboratory­confirmed influenza cases) of ICU admissions were similar to the previous season (Table 3 and Figure 9).
    The rate of ICU admissions was highest among those aged 0­-4 years (10.4 per 100,000 population)”

    What is that paltry 5.3 rate compared to the spirit-crushing rate of 1 for Covid?
    And think of the children. Barely a population rate of 10.4 for influenza against the heart-stopping figure of 0 for Covid, the new Scourge of God.

    Funny thing about the deaths. In Alberta, as in other jurisdictions, anybody who dies with Covid is listed in the death tally. Was there a single case in the 90% of fatalities that are over age 70, or among the 75% of fatalities that had three or more comorbidities, or the 76% of fatalities that occurred among populations that were confined to homes, that would have died in the last four months without Covid? If so, was there more than one?

    One last question. If the kids do go back to school, and many do catch the bug, what specifically is it that will be so terrible in this outcome, and what figure would be the threshold we could not bear to cross?

    1. One child is too many if that child is yours. Jeez, Murphy, What next, stack the bodies in bags like cords of wood to fire up the stove?

      1. That was a tremendous appeal to emotion with no context of any kind. After all, there is no down side to closing the schools, closing the pools, closing the gyms, etc. In fact, I think that my seven-year-old has benefitted tremendously from the social controls. I realized years ago that there was a potential for my child to die in a car accident, or be run over, so I have kept her chained in the basement until I can bring myself to euthanize her to help us both avoid the excruciating dilemma of accepting some risk by leaving the house. I’m starting to think that I just don’t have the nerve to do what’s right. There has been a grand total of 3 hospitalizations for people under age 10 in Alberta with Covid. 0 admissions to ICU. But I’m so scared that I’m going through a pair of Depends as I respond to your informed and sublime answer to my post. Remember when we shut down all the schools, and pools, and gyms when influenza put those kids in hospital and ICU in 2018? One child was too many!

        1. “One last question. If the kids do go back to school, and many do catch the bug, what specifically is it that will be so terrible in this outcome, and what figure would be the threshold we could not bear to cross?”

          You asked. I answered. Your apparent inability to understand the value of human life is remarkable. Are you a psychopath?

          1. If you take yourself to be the arbiter of the value of human life, I’ll play along, and admit that I have no capacity whatsoever to understand the value of human life in the manner which you apparently do. Death from Covid-19 is such an anomalous outcome that I remain unconvinced that it has any capacity to be lethal barring significant confounding factors. But it is beyond dispute that the disruptions to every single aspect of socio-economic life in our province will result in deaths. Lots and lots of them. And beyond the deaths, the socio-economic disruptions will result in massive levels of morbidity, with all manner of disease resulting from the depression, substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, etc. When March 2021 rolls around, we will have seen somewhere around 500 people in Alberta die with positive Covid tests. Almost all will be people who would have died regardless of Covid, because they were very sick and/or very old. How many months of lost life will that total?
            Over the next thirty years or more, tens of thousand of Albertans will die earlier than they would have without Covidmania because their lives were thrown into chaos by the panic and the bizarre, unprecedented socio-economic controls.
            But you’re clearly content with your particular calculus.

  10. I think that we are spending too much time and effort wit someone who has no clue of what society actually means or even care about it.
    Jason Kenney does not care what the levels of covid are or will be at all. He will blame Justin Trudeau or Deena or whoever and just moves. We the peons, on the other hand do not care about stopping him. As a result we will continue in this transformation to a feudal/evangelical paradise that will be almost impossible to reverse.
    This is my concern and I think it is time that along with what we still have left of the unions, we should as soon as possible organize a massive protest of shock and awe if we intend to stay in Alberta.
    Jason Kenney knows we are weak at this time with the pandemic and unemployment and he will stab society to death to get what he wants. Of that I have no doubts.
    So the ball is on our court.


  11. Deena “Stormin’ Norman” Hinshaw has finally addressed mortality and hospitalization for the Chupacabra, but in her own special way.
    “In those between the ages of 30 and 39, one out of every 50 cases has had to be admitted to hospital.
    One out of 20 people between the ages of 40 and 69 has required hospitalization.
    One out of every 10 cases of those between the ages of 70 and 79 has died. For those over the age of 80, one out of every four cases has died.”
    Funny stuff, that. Although the government’s own website delineates 10-year-cohorts, Dr. Deena apparently figures that lumping the entire group from 40-69 into one is plenty accurate. The wacky aspect of this menagerie is that over each ten-year band, the hospitalization rate more than doubles.
    No mention whatsoever of the level of comorbidity present in cases with severe outcomes.
    “While it is true that younger people who catch COVID-19 have a lower risk of severe outcomes, lower risk does not mean zero risk.”

    Apparently we have moved on from low-end predictions of hundreds of thousands of cases with thousands of deaths to trembling at the prospect of any risk whatsoever.
    “SCTV – Shanks on Firewood & the Economy”

    Lastly, on the subject of those MAGA deniers:

    It’s all worth it if we can keep just one person who smoked Player’s Navy cut, from 1952 until they couldn’t operate a lighter in 2018, alive for just one more week.

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