“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.”
Masks will now be mandatory for Grade 4-12 students, as well as school staff across Alberta. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange made the announcement 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.
LaGrange said 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.
Students with symptoms of COVID-19 will be required to get tested and only be allowed back into class after a negative result.
The province will also send health and safety equipment to schools, including face shields, hand sanitizer, and contactless thermometers.
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.
Every student, teacher, and staff member will receive two masks as part of the new plan. An estimated 1.6 million masks will be distributed to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff. Additional single-use masks will be made available at schools, and the government will also be supplying 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer to schools.
Teachers and staff will also be supplied with one face shield, to be used with a mask. As well, schools will each be supplied with two contactless thermometers.