Masks will now be mandatory for Grade 4-12 students, as well as school staff across Alberta. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange made the change Tuesday, just weeks after making an initial school re-opening announcement in which masks were recommended, but not mandatory for any age group or staff members.
She says “after continuing to work with Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s team and Alberta Health, emerging evidence has made it clear that masks can play an important role in eliminating the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.”
LaGrange also says mask use for kindergarten to Grade 3 students will continue to be optional, suggesting that mask use for younger children is a challenge due to difficulties with proper fit and compliance. She adds evidence shows that children under 10 may be less likely than older children or adults to transmit COVID-19.
For students and staff, the masks will be mandatory while in common areas like hallways, on school buses, or shared spaces where social distancing is not possible. The province says it will be distributing 1.6 million masks to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff in public, separate, Francophone, charter, and independent schools across Alberta, with additional single-use masks to be made available at schools if required.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the updated back to school approach is similar to those being taken in provinces like Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Quebec.
She says “when Minister LaGrange announced on July 21st that in-person classes would resume this fall, I noted that my team was reviewing the current guidance, including evidence from jurisdictions around the world.”
“Since Day one, we have committed to acting on the best evidence available at any current time, this means not relying on any single study or jurisdictions experience, but methodically assessing all the evidence available and then acting on that information.”
The province will also be sending a plethora of health and safety equipment to schools in Alberta, including face shields, hand sanitizer, and contactless thermometers.
According to the Alberta Government, exemptions will be made for students and staff who are unable to wear a mask due to medical or other needs but didn’t specify what pre-existing conditions qualify for an exemption.