St. Albert daycare Tot Spot Academy reopened this past week after shutting down its entire program in response to an outbreak of COVID-19, which includes four cases linked to a new strain of the virus.
Alicia Bishop, Tot Spot co-owner and director, said the daycare fully reopened on Feb. 8 after working with Alberta Health Services on sanitization and other safety measures. The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on Jan. 19, and the daycare shut down after the second case was confirmed on Jan. 21.
There were 25 cases linked to this outbreak in total, according to Alberta Health. Of those, four cases were linked to the COVID-19 variant discovered in the United Kingdom. Eight are still active and 17 people are no longer testing positive. None of the cases are travel-related, according to the province.
Even before they knew about the COVID-19 variant, Bishop said staff went "above and beyond" in their response to the outbreak.
"We had already put in a ton of preventative measures the week before – we closed our whole facility out of choice, we did extra cleaning and sanitizing. So by the time we had been notified of the variant, we'd already done all of those steps," Bishop said.
"That's why it was safe for us to return this week, because we were proactive, even just dealing with what we thought was normal COVID at the time ... I think that really helped prevent it from spreading any more."
Tot Spot, located on McKenney Ave., opened to cohorts that were not close contacts Feb. 1 with staff and students getting tested for a third time for the variant to make sure they were negative. Cohorts that were close contacts were then allowed back to the daycare on Feb. 8.
"The kids, the teachers – we're all just happy to be back," Bishop said. "We were all isolating at home to be safe and prevent any potential spread, so to be back is nice."
Tom McMillan, director of communications with Alberta Health, said health officials acted quickly and worked closely with the daycare before reopening.
"This includes conducting contact tracing and ensuring that anyone at risk of exposure is contacted, isolated and tested as quickly as possible. When needed, AHS will also work with the facility to ensure all necessary cleaning, masking, screening and other health precautions are in place to control the spread," McMillan wrote in an email to the Gazette.
Alberta recorded 36 new cases of COVID-19 variants provincewide on Thursday, marking the largest daily increase the province had seen to date involving two new strains of the virus. The variant strain is suspected to be 30 to 50 per cent more contagious than the first COVID-19 strain.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said this increase was from positive tests gathered over the span of a week. Sometimes the time between the original COVID-19 test and the screening for the two variants can be delayed because of transport times, she said.
At that point, the province had recorded 156 total cases of two new strains first found in the U.K. and South Africa. Of those, 93 cases were not related to travel, Hinshaw said.
In the Edmonton Zone, there were 56 confirmed cases of the two COVID-19 variants, with all but two cases linked to the U.K. variant.
–with files from Jessica Nelson