EDMONTON — After nearly two years of going to school with their faces covered, students in Alberta now have the option to ditch their masks.
While some have said they welcome the step toward normalcy, others say they are anxious and worried over what has become a divisive, political issue in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s very little information about how the schools are doing, so maybe it’ll be fine,” said Emma Stephens, a mother of two from Lethbridge, Alta.
“I don’t personally believe it’ll be fine … because when you when you take your mitigation measures off, then the cases go up.
“So the issue now is there’s going to be some kids who feel differently than we do, families feel differently than we do and they won’t want to wear masks and then that causes tension for my kids.”
The government announced last week that starting Monday, students in schools would no longer be required to wear masks. As well, children 12 and under don’t have to wear masks in any setting.
Teachers will have the option of not wearing a mask when a provincewide mask mandate is set to be lifted starting March 1, when remaining school requirements, such as cohorting, will also end.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said in a letter posted on her Twitter account last week there has been a downward trend in the number of schools that have shifted to at-home learning over the last few weeks due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
“At the peak of the fifth wave, there were 29 schools that were shifted to at-home learning, and today, only seven of the over 2,500-plus schools in our province remain learning at home.”
The Alberta Teachers’ Association has said COVID-19 community spread has not decreased significantly, and it is exploring legal options.
Trisha Estabrooks, chair of Edmonton Public Schools, said the district was planning to tell parents masks are still encouraged.
On Monday afternoon, some students have planned to walk out of classes early and protest at the legislature in support of teachers and health-care workers.
Brian Wawrow of Edmonton said his kids and their friends will be in school Monday with their masks on.
“They all feel like they’re gonna just be as safe as they possibly can and use their own common sense to keep protecting themselves and the kids that they’re around,” he said.
“My biggest fear’s my dad’s 89. So if my kid gives me COVID, then I can’t go see my dad. My wife’s parents are like 70. The health-care system has been battered.”
Wawrow said he understands everyone is exhausted with regulations.
“We certainly are, but we want to see a proper end to (the pandemic) and not just pretend it doesn’t exist anymore.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2022.