Since schools started to reopen in late August, many parents, teachers and staff have been concerned about the potential spread of the Covid-19 virus. Their concerns might be justified. Quebec released data that shows 635 schools have reported Covid-19 cases with at least one confirmed case – and 512 of those schools are now dealing with active cases. They include pre-school, elementary, high school (public and private), as well as vocational and adult education centres.
The majority of cases to date among students and staff are in the public sector with 1,364 cases and the private sector at 276 – for a total of 1,640 confirmed cases of the virus. Of those cases, there are presently 1,043 active cases, with the province reporting 597 students and staff who have recovered and are back in school.
Despite the advice from some health specialists, as well as the apprehensions of parents, teachers and staff – Quebec refuses to make the wearing of facemasks mandatory in the classrooms. At a news conference on September 29th, Doctor Horacio Arruda, the Public Health Director and Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Health and Social Services for the province, said that he ‘finds wearing a mask during a long day difficult’ and is ‘happy to remove it when sitting alone’ in his office. He said that ‘making a child wear a mask, while seated for the whole school day, would be worse and affect their ability to learn’. Arruda also said that ‘a more useful option is to get students to respect the distancing rules outside the classroom or when they enter the building and limit the time of exposure to each other’.
“We are following the situation day by day,” he said. “I’m not telling you we won’t make changes on this. But for the moment, there is no change. There is a hypothesis. If there’s a big transmission in schools that we think we can prevent with some measures, we will add them. But actually, that’s not the case.”
This goes against medical experts who said last week that making masks mandatory in (all areas) of the schools seems ‘prudent as the number of schools with at least one case of COVID-19 has climbed to more than 600’.
Despite new studies showing the Covid-19 virus can spread farther than two metres, especially in indoor places – Quebec students from Grade 5 through high school only have to wear facemasks when they are outside the classroom, circulating in common areas of the school and on school buses. However, they are allowed to remove their masks when seated in the classroom. The Province of Ontario on the other hand, has made face masks mandatory, at all times, for students in Grades 4 through 12.