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Masks mandatory for staff and grades 4 to 12 students returning to school this fall

"Schools are unique settings where special measures are needed to mitigate the risk of exposure," said Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. "But there is still no risk-free approach to living with COVID-19 – we have no choice but to live with it.
20200731 Banff Masks 0230
A Town of Banff COVID-19 safety ambassador hands a visitor a face mask with a pair of tongs on Friday (July 31). Friday marked the first day for the Town’s mandatory mask bylaw. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO⁠

BOW VALLEY – Students from Grade 4 to 12 returning to classrooms this fall in schools across the province will now have to wear face coverings while in common areas, hallways and on buses. 

Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange and Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw made the announcement Tuesday morning (Aug. 4).

"The safety and well-being of our staff and students have been and continues to be my No. 1 priority," LaGrange said.

"After continuing to work with Dr. Hinshaw and her team, and with emerging evidence having made it clear masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our schools, as a result, mask use for students in grades 4 to 12 and all school staff will be mandatory when school returns for the 2020-21 school year." 

The new rule for all schools in the province sets out that students and staff must wear a face covering while on the bus, in hallways or other common areas of the school. In the classroom, students are only required to wear a mask if they are taking part in an activity that does not allow for physical distancing. 

As for children in elementary schools, LaGrange said it is too challenging for younger students in terms of proper fit and compliance for it to be mandatory. It will, however, still be an option for students in those grade levels. 

The minister announced that with the new requirement the province would provide $10 million in reusable masks for every student in Alberta, teachers and staff member. That is 1.6 million reusable masks distributed to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff. 

"We will ensure that students required to wear a mask have them," LaGrange said. "Teachers and support staff, school staff and bus drivers will also receive one reusable face shield." 

The minister also announced the Alberta Education will distribute 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer to all school divisions in the province to help with the requirement that all classrooms and entrances to schools have dispensers. All schools will also receive two contactless thermometers to help assess coronavirus symptoms. 

"All of these supports will be distributed to school authorities prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year," LaGrange said. 

Hinshaw said that after careful and continued review of measures in place for other jurisdictions around the return to schools, she is now recommending that non-medical masks be work by teachers and students in Grade 4 to 12. Masks will be required outside classrooms and when activities in the classroom require close interaction, she said. 

"This is similar to the approach being adopted in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia," Hinshaw said. "It is an important measure to help minimize the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19." 

On July 21, Hinshaw and LaGrange announced the province's return to school plan. The plan has been criticized by the NDP opposition for not going far enough to protect students and staff from the spread of COVID-19.

Hinshaw said masks are known to be an effective addition to already established protocols to prevent the disease from being transmitted in social settings. 

"Schools are unique settings where special measures are needed to mitigate the risk of exposure," she said. "But there is still no risk-free approach to living with COVID-19 – we have no choice but to live with it.

"Jurisdictions from around the world are trying to determine the most effective way to resume school. We will continue to monitor their experiences and our own.

"We must be agile, adaptive and guided by the evidence as it emerges." 

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