The professional body representing Canadian pediatricians is questioning the rationale behind Alberta lifting masking requirements in schools for students.
In a series of statements on social media, the Canadian Paediatric Society said lifting mask mandates when so few children are vaccinated increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure while at school.
“Mask-wearing reduces the risk of indoor transmission, especially in schools and other group settings,” the society said in a Tweet on Friday that tagged Education Minister Adriana LaGrange directly.
“We should be doing everything possible to reduce the risk of virus transmission in schools, and avoid the potential for further disruptions to in-person learning,” the Canadian Paediatric Society added.
“Parents should be advised that wearing masks at school will help reduce the risk of transmission, especially until more children are vaccinated.”
As of Friday, the province reported that 46.4 per cent of those aged 5 to 11 have received one dose of vaccine, while 19.5 per cent are fully immunized.
Eighty-six per cent of 12 to 14 and 15 to 19-year-olds have received one dose, and 82 per cent of youth in that age range have two doses.
Starting Monday, children will not be required to wear masks while at school in Alberta. In Edmonton, city bylaws will require that anyone over the age of 2 still wear a mask in all other public places and while on transit.
Premier Jason Kenney’s office told CTV News in a statement on Saturday that it is time for kids to “live their lives again.”
“Pediatricians in Canada and other countries generally have endorsed the view that the risks to children from COVID are far outweighed by the harm to kids from keeping schools closed,” the statement said. “There has been a disproportionate level of burden put on kids during the pandemic and it is time for them to live their lives again.
“Enough is enough, it’s time to get back to normal.”
In a letter to school authorities on Tuesday, LaGrange said that there will be no option for school boards to create mask directives for students.
“When it comes to our children, there are many important factors to consider when they attend school, including seeing the facial expressions of teachers and classmates, having the ability to be animated and joyful, and considering the mental health impacts that come along with public health measures such as masking,” the minister said.
“Every child is entitled to have access to an education program,” LaGrange added. “School authorities cannot deny their students access to in person education due to their personal decision to wear or not to wear a mask.”
Teachers, administrators, and other school staff like custodians and bus drivers will need to continue wearing masks. The province says other measures like cohorting, enhanced cleaning and sanitation will remain in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
“Individual family choices need to be respected and students should not be stigmatized for their choice related to masking going forward,” LaGrange said.
When asked by CTV News Edmonton at the lastest pandemic update on Thursday why the province is shifting the masking rules for schools and what has changed in the past month, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw deferred the question to the health minister.
Jason Copping said the change was prompted in part after the province looked at the measure and the “impact that it has and the benefits we get.”
“We need to let kids be kids,” Copping said, echoing Premier Jason Kenney’s comments on Tuesday as he originally announced the plan to remove mandatory masking for students.
“We know that COVID impacts kids, that it tends to be less severe, they are less likely to get and transmit it, although, with Omicron, it is a higher transmission rate than we’ve seen at Delta,” Copping added.