Alberta’s school reentry plan now includes masks for students Grade 4 and up. Is it enough to open safely?

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw (left) and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.

by Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – The Government of Alberta has announced that it will be mandatory for Grade 4 to 12 students, and all school staff, to wear masks when school starts up again in the fall.

When physical distancing is not possible, it will be mandatory for teachers and staff to wear the masks, while students will have to wear them in all shared and common areas. There will be exceptions for students and staff who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons.

As for the younger students: mask use for 3rd graders will be optional, because “mask use for younger children is a challenge due to difficulties with proper fit and compliance. In addition, evidence shows that children under 10 may be less likely than older children or adults to transmit COVID-19,” reads the Government of Alberta website.

All students and staff in public, separate, Francophone, charter and independent schools will receive two reusable masks from the Provincial Government. They plan to distribute more than 1.6 million masks to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff.

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education, said, “The safety of our staff and students continues to be my number 1 priority. Since cancelling in-person classes in March and developing our school re-entry plan, we have been clear that we would continue to adapt our guidelines as necessary based on current medical advice.

“These new safety measures will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools, and we will continue to work with our school authorities to ensure they are equipped for a successful start to the school year.”

Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw stated, “After reviewing the emerging evidence, it is clear that masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19. I am not making this updated recommendation lightly, but acting on the best current evidence available. While masks are important, I want to stress that they are only one of the many public health measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of students, staff and families.”

Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling said that the ATA welcomes the mask requirements, but the school reopening plan still falls short of a safe and responsible plan.

“We still need to talk about class sizing, we still need to talk about cohorting and social distancing and the funding around the things that are going to be needed to ensure that schools are indeed safe for teachers, students and their families,” said Schilling.

“A month remains before students, teachers and staff return to school. There is still time to get this right and to create confidence among parents, teachers, staff, students and the community in the face of continuing uncertainty. This does not require that risk be utterly and entirely eliminated, but those participating in public education should believe that the risk they will be undertaking has been minimized and is reasonable, and that their fears and concerns are being heard, understood and actively attended to as a priority.”

Meanwhile, The Masks for Albertans program has ended. This program saw 40 million non-medical masks distributed to Albertans, more than half of which were handed out at A&W, McDonald’s Canada and Tim Hortons locations. The Albertan Government now suggests that disposable masks be bought in local pharmacies, grocery stores, and hardware stores.

At the time of writing, the Alberta Government has no plans to distribute any more free masks to Albertans. “The program was intended to offer free non-medical masks to Albertans to supplement an individual’s own efforts to acquire their own supply of non-medical masks,” said the Government.

Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health, said of the distribution, “I want to thank our corporate partners, A&W, McDonald’s Canada and Tim Hortons, for their tremendous support and contribution in making this program a success. Through this program, we helped kick-start individuals’ efforts to acquire masks as the supply chain caught up with demand. We want to thank all Albertans who took part in this program, and those who continue to do their civic duty by washing their hands, practising physical distancing, and wearing a mask when they can’t physically distance.”

Jake Cardinal is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter. 

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