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Will Lifting the Quebec Mask Mandate in Classrooms By March 7 Be Too Risky?

The Quebec mask mandate in classrooms has been lifted for students in elementary and secondary schools. With spring break nearing its end, students will once again return to school. But this time, they will no longer need to wear a face mask.

Currently, preschool students only need to wear a face mask when riding school transportation that caters to different grade levels. For students in elementary and secondary schools, the situation is different. They have to wear face masks inside their classrooms, even as they attend physical education and health classes in indoor areas. Face masks can only be removed when playing wind instruments. 

However, that is about to change in a few days. By March 7, the Quebec mask mandate in classrooms will be lifted. This applies to students in Montreal, the Abitibi, the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, and the North Shore.

Students in Laval, Quebec City, and the Chaudière-Appalaches will see it come into effect on March 14. This is because their break started one week later than other cities. 

This does not mean that students will not wear face masks at all times. They still need to do so when in common areas, such as walking in school hallways and riding school transportation. 

Not Everyone Agrees With Removing the Quebec Mask Mandate in Classrooms

Katherine Korakakis, the president of the English Parents’ Committee Association, thinks that lifting the Quebec mask mandate after the current school break is not reasonable. She says, “it’s too soon. It’s way too soon. It’s not a good idea. Like, at least let’s wait until we can open windows and people are not freezing to death in classrooms.”

Similarly, Dr. Olivier Drouin, a pediatrician in Montreal, says that there is nothing wrong with removing the Quebec mask mandate in classrooms if it were backed up by scientific evidence. But doing so in the midst of lifting many of the COVID-19 restrictions in the province might be something of a concern. 

He said that “doing all of this simultaneously, without having good access to PCR tests, meaning not knowing exactly what’s going on in the community, and therefore having a one-to-two week lag to show what’s happening on the hospitalization level – I’m slightly worried.” 

Lifting the Quebec mask mandate in classrooms now, only to introduce it again later on, will do no good to the province. Citizens might lose their confidence in the government and, as a result, make them less likely to comply with COVID-19 regulations. If it were up to Dr. Drouin, he would have pushed back this change in restrictions. 

Teachers in Quebec were not Consulted

The decision to lift the Quebec mask mandate in classrooms was made without hearing from those who would have to directly interact with the students themselves. Officials seem to be implementing regulations without thinking about the situation in schools. Previously, children had to be two meters away from each other while inside the classroom. But that regulation is difficult to comply with in a room full of kindergarten students. 

Some also wonder why the changes in restrictions for schools do not coincide with those of the rest of the province.  

Heidi Yetman, the president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said that, “Why is it that the rules inside schools are so different than the rules for the general population? Teachers are really feeling like we are pawns in this game and that the government really doesn’t respect us, and they’re not listening to us.”

An Expert Questions this Decision

Dr. Christopher Labos, an epidemiologist in Montreal, finds no compelling reason to lift the Quebec mask mandate in classrooms or even in other public areas. He thinks that allowing bars, gyms, and other establishments to operate has the benefit of income on its side. Many have already had to suffer economic losses when they were restricted from opening. As such, it would seem reasonable to allow them to reopen so that they could get back on their feet.

But nothing is lost when a mask mandate is in place. It poses no threat to the economy or the health of the general population. Rather, most of those who are against the mask mandate base their decision on emotional or political reasons.

Dr. Labos also finds it conflicting that the mask mandate is not applicable in every area of the school. 

He said, “You don’t have to wear the mask in class, but you have to wear one when you’re in the hallway. Like, what does that actually accomplish? Scientifically, that doesn’t actually make sense.”

Is there a Right Time to Lift the Quebec Mask Mandate?

Marie-Pascale Pomey, a professor in the Department of Management, Evaluation, and Health Policy in the School of Public Health at the Université de Montréal, said that it might not be easy to pinpoint the exact time when to best lift this restriction.

She said that there is a possibility that transmission of the COVID-19 virus could increase with the removal of face masks. Because of this, provincial authorities have to be on top of monitoring the situation on the ground. Despite the lack of access to PCR testing, there are other measures that officials can use to evaluate the effect of lifting the Quebec mask mandate in classrooms. 

Pomey that without PCR testing, “we can follow absences. We saw around the return to class after Christmas, there was a relatively high rate of absences, so we know that the virus can circulate a fair bit in the classroom.”

The number of absences can indicate the effect of lifting the Quebec mask mandate in classrooms.

To prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the ventilation in classrooms and physical distancing should be enhanced so that the viral load can be decreased. This helps lessen the risk of contracting the virus and passing it on to someone else.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Quebec. Labos said that the classrooms do not have appropriate ventilation to protect the students because there are insufficient HEPA air filters in place. Additionally, only 41% of children ages 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated.

Whether this decision would increase the level of community transmission and, as a consequence, push officials to reinforce stricter public health measures is yet to be determined in the weeks to come.

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