A change to provincial masking and isolation measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta has parents and teachers worried about the student population when classes resume in September.
On Wednesday, the province announced masking would no longer be mandatory starting Aug. 16, and people who test positive for COVID-19 will not be required to isolate, although it is still strongly recommended.
The changes also include no longer notifying close contacts of exposure to the virus, and and those contacts won’t be mandated to isolate.
“Lifting all of these measures, these protections, before kids can be vaccinated is very premature,” said Jacqueline Day, whose eight-year-old daughter is heading back to class in September.
“Without having the benefit of information about case counts in our community, parents are flying blind.”
Day said she relied on the daily case reporting to determine whether to leave her daughter in in-person learning.
She said the other measures that were in place like masking and isolation gave her and other parents peace of mind.
“They are sending us back to school in September without the toolbox we had last year that made us feel safe and our kids feel safe,” Day said.
Rose Pink is a mom-of-two to an eight-year-old and a 12-year-old. She said she was already worried about September before the province announced sweeping changes.
“I just think this is a terrible idea. A lot of people are really scared about what this means for our kids,” Pink said.
Pink said she and other parents are “baffled” by the decision.
Student advocacy group Support Our Students Alberta had similar concerns to Day, and were taken aback by the removal of health measures just weeks before students head back to class.
“It’s shocking, actually. It seems reckless, it seems to not take into consideration children,” Support Our Students Alberta spokesperson Wing Li said. “It’s this feeling of being trapped, we’re going to send kids back to school because they have to go, and yet we’re not doing even the bare minimum to protect them.”
One of the biggest concerns from both parents and teachers is that children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which has proved to be the strongest mitigation during the pandemic.
According to data from Alberta Health, 63.4 per cent of Albertans aged 12 to 14 have received their first dose of the vaccine, and 66 per cent of those between the ages of 15 and 19 are also single-dosed.
But those numbers decline when it comes to a second dose.
The data shows only 47.8 per cent of those between 12 and 14 years old have both doses, and 51.5 per cent of Albertans aged 15 to 19 have the second shot.
Alberta Teachers’ Association spokesperson Jonathan Teghtmeyer said the province’s announcement was troubling for teachers, after a year with many disruptions in schools due to the spread of the virus.
“We know that COVID will still have a significant presence in schools regardless, and this announcement will just make it worse,” Teghtmeyer said. “Some simple, non-intrusive measures to help prevent the spread of COVID in schools is, frankly, just prudent.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said schools will be closely monitored by health officials when students return to class but remained short on details about how that data will be acquired without testing.
“We know people continue to have that anxiety,” Shandro said. “But this is work that was done by public health is based on the science and based on the data.”
According to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, masks will be recommended as a temporary outbreak intervention in schools.
The province’s education ministry said the guidance in the 2021/2022 re-entry plan still stands for the start of the new school year.
“Alberta Education is in regular communications with education partners, including school boards, to provide support as they prepare for the upcoming school year,” ministry spokesperson Nicole Sparrow said in a statement. “We will continue to follow the advice of the chief medical officer of health and will make changes based on her recommendation.”
Sparrow added that a guidance document to support the return to school is being finalized and will be released in mid-August.
–With files from Global News’ Morgan Black
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