The end of the mask mandate in high school classes in Quebec leaves many ‘a little puzzled’

Pediatrician Dr. Olivier Drouin wishes Quebec would have waited to repeal the measure and warned that the risks could outweigh the benefits.

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With COVID-19 vaccination rates high among teens across the province, Quebec announced Tuesday that high school students will soon no longer have to wear masks while in class.

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The change takes effect on November 15 and applies only to the classroom. Masks will still be required during school transport and in common areas.

The announcement was met with concern by those who have been monitoring the situation in the schools, with some questioning as to why the province would rush to remove a measure that appears to be working.

“I’m a little puzzled, to be honest,” said Dr. Olivier Drouin, a pediatrician at Montreal’s Ste-Justine Hospital. “It will be more comfortable for teens, but I think the small benefit does not outweigh the potential risk to the teens themselves and mostly other family members.”

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé announced the change on Tuesday during a press conference on easing several other two-week measures. Dubé said the changes are possible as Quebec’s “epidemiological situation is relatively under control.”

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Asked about the change in classrooms, Quebec Public Health Director Horacio Arruda said he feels it is the right move as there have not been many cases registered in colleges. Vaccination coverage is also high among 12- to 17-year-olds in Quebec, he noted.

“When we balanced the effects of having the mask on all day in the classroom, relative to the fact that we had no outbursts at that level, we think it’s acceptable to take the masks off,” Arruda explained.

But given how many high school students have younger siblings, Drouin and others questioned why the province would make the change now instead of waiting until younger children can be vaccinated.

“What’s the harm in continuing to wear the mask (so far)?” asked Drouin.

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“Teenagers are used to it – it’s been the norm since the beginning of the school year,” he added. “So I do not really understand the bustle. We could easily have waited until after the holiday, to see how the autumn goes, see how it goes with vaccinating the five- to 11-year-olds and then re-evaluate. ”

The vaccination rate is high among high school students in Quebec. Among the age group 12-17 years, 94 percent have received one dose and 86 percent are fully vaccinated. But vaccination coverage among teens is significantly lower in certain areas, including different neighborhoods in Montreal.

As of Tuesday, according to Montreal’s public health, coverage in the age group was still below 65 percent in several neighborhoods. In Outremont, where it is lowest, only 56 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are adequately vaccinated.

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Mike Cohen, a spokesman for the English Montreal School Board, was reached for comment Tuesday, saying the board will follow the measures the government has proposed.

But Cohen said he spent the day talking to teachers and getting mixed opinions about the announcement, especially as it comes when flu season comes.

“Some teachers are fine with that, but there are others who have a level of discomfort and worry,” Cohen said.

Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, asked why the province is not mistaken for caution.

“I do not know at all where it comes from,” Yetman said. “We have very few cases in high school right now, which is great. So why do we change something that seems to work? “

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Before the school year began, Quebec had announced in June that students would not wear masks this year.

However, when the fourth wave of the pandemic took hold, the government withdrew its position and implemented the measure in nine regions across the province.

jfeith@postmedia.com

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