A group of Alberta parents heard Tuesday their children were exposed to a COVID-19 variant strain at their daycare.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported that afternoon contact tracers had found six more cases in the province of the COVID-19 variants first identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Eight of these cases – two more than a day earlier – amongst five different households have no known links to travel, the top doctor said.

"What we have identified is a link between four of these cases to a daycare outbreak. This link was just identified today and work is underway to notify parents and staff of this facility that the outbreak at this location may at least be partially caused by a variant strain," Hinshaw said.

"This is concerning but it does mean we have a better chance of controlling spread when we understand linkages between cases."

She did not reveal where the daycare is located, noting a second time that contact-tracing teams found the connection that morning and parents and staff were still being notified.

Hinshaw added that not all of the cases linked to the daycare outbreak had been tested for the U.K. and South Africa mutations yet.

SPECIAL VARIANT CONTACT-TRACING TEAM; NEW RULES FOR RETURNING TRAVELLERS

In total, the province has found 57 variant cases: seven of the variant that first emerged in South Africa and 50 of the strain that emerged in the U.K. 

All of the other cases have been linked to international travel.

"It's not just one or two countries," Hinshaw said of the travellers were arriving home from. "It's many countries that we're seeing people picking up those variants of concern and then coming back into Alberta."

It's the second-highest number of known variant cases amongst the provinces. Only Ontario had more with 109 as of Tuesday. In total, Canada has 187 known COVID-19 variant cases.

Hinshaw said Alberta is not postponing the first stage of its reopening on Feb. 8 in response, but beefing up protocols elsewhere.

Alberta Health Services has dedicated an entire team to variant contact tracing, Hinshaw said, reminding the public that while the strains are new, response to them should not be and the public should remain vigilant in following public health orders. The mutated viruses spread the same way through close contact, the top doctor told Albertans, only more efficiently.

She also called Alberta's border testing pilot program a "vital tool" in the province's ability to identify new strains. All of the positive tests found by the program are genetically sequenced for mutations. Since launching in November, the program has found nearly half – 28 – of Alberta's variant cases amongst some 45,000 incoming travellers.

And, seeing as two of the travel-related variant cases were Calgary students whose parents had returned from an international trip, Alberta is extending isolation requirements to all members of a traveller's household. Travellers will be given the option to quarantine in a government-provided hotel room. If they chose to stay at home, everyone in the house will also need to quarantine for two weeks after the end of the case's isolation period for a total of 24 days.

"Given how easily this virus is spreading in homes, this enhancement is necessary to prevent spread in the community," Hinshaw explained.

"We will no longer assess the ability to stay in a different part of the house as adequate for isolation away from other household contacts."

The top doctor stressed that there had not been any evidence of spread in the Calgary classrooms: "At this point in time, there's no evidence that these schools pose any greater or different risk to the public than any other school."

268 NEW CASES, 7,900 TESTS

Hinshaw reported that afternoon 268 new cases found among 7,900 tests conducted by labs on Monday.

The province has a positivity rate of 3.5 per cent.

There are 305 schools with active alerts or outbreaks, totalling 726 cases.

Hinshaw also reported 13 more COVID-19 related deaths Tuesday afternoon, including an Edmonton-zone man in his 20s who had no known comorbidities.

Of 556 Albertans in hospital, 97 are in ICUs.

More than 107,400 doses of vaccine have been administered. About 17,000 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses.