Students Grades 4 to 12 will go back to Alberta schools this fall with a mandatory mask order from the province.
On Tuesday, the province announced that students in grades four through 12 and all staff will be required to wear masks in schools to combat the spread of COVID-19.
More than 1.6 million masks will be distributed to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff. This includes all Alberta school boards receiving two reusable masks per staff and student from the Alberta government.
Additionally, single-use masks will be supplied to all staff and students to meet demand.
Barbara Silva, public education advocate and communications director for Support Our Students (SOS), said this move from the province seems like more of a political decision.
“It literally is the least they could do, they went the bare, bare minimum to seem responsive to public outcry and it’s only going to add more confusion,” she said.
How masks will be enforced in schools
Teachers and staff will need to wear a mask in school settings where they can’t remain socially distant. Students will be required to wear a mask in all shared common areas like hallways, meeting places and transportation.
The province said in a press release, that making Kindergarten to Grade 3 students wear a mask is challenging “due to difficulties with proper fit and compliance.”
They also note that children under 10 have a lower chance of spreading COVID-19 then adults as support for this decision.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said in a press release that making masks mandatory was a decision based on emerging evidence on the importance of mask-wearing.
“After reviewing the emerging evidence, it’s clear that masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19,” she said.
“I am not making this updated recommendation lightly, but acting on the best current evidence available.”
Additional health measures in schools
The Alberta government will also supply face shields to school staff, if needed, to accompany the use of a protective mask. They’ll also supply two contactless thermometers to schools across Alberta to manage a possible COVID-19 outbreak.
Staff testing will also be expanded by the province in the new school year. Working with AHS and school boards, the province hopes to provide supplies and support to reduce turnaround times for testing.
Silva said all these measures are still not enough for a safe school re-entry. She hopes to see zero community transmission, a nurse in every school and a class size cap before schools reopen.
“We don’t currently have the conditions under which we can have a safe relaunch to schools and, in the absence of better policies and legislation. We should be delaying the start of school until those resources are available,” she said.