MONTREAL—Quebec’s updated back-to-school plan requires students in Grade 5 and up to wear masks in all common areas of school buildings, except in the classroom.
Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said Monday the government’s new strategy does away with the six-student bubble concept it had announced in June and instead focuses on making face-to-face communication between teachers and students as easy as possible.
“We want to preserve the ease of communication, contact face-to-face, facial expressions—these are important,” Roberge told a news conference in Montreal. He added that health and education experts advised his office against making masks mandatory inside classrooms.
Roberge said each classroom will be its own bubble, and students will not be required to maintain a two−metre distance with their classmates. There will be limited mixing between classes and in the event of an outbreak, the entire classroom bubble will be sent home to continue studies remotely.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, said while the government is not forcing students to wear masks all day, they can if they want to.
“For kids … we [will] organize schools in a different way with classes that are going to be closed—not mixing with others too much,” Arruda said. “Wearing a mask is difficult for an adult, so imagine for kids.”
And while all elementary and high school students will be expected to return to school at the end of the month, children who have a doctor’s note to suggest they’re at high risk of COVID-19 complications or who live with someone at risk, will be offered a remote learning service.
The province is also maintaining an option for students in Grades 10 and 11 to physically attend classes one out of every two days, if their school cannot organize stable classroom bubbles.
Roberge said in order to protect children from harm, schools need to fully reopen in order to offer students the ability to properly socialize and learn.
“Not opening the school is putting our kids at risk, we have some trouble with mental health, with learning disability,” Roberge said. “So I think the higher risk is not to reopen our schools.”
Quebec reported one new death in the past 24 hours attributed to COVID-19 and 98 new cases of the virus—the lowest daily number of cases since July.
Health Minister Christian Dube said Monday authorities compiled various official sources of COVID−19 data in recent days and the adjusted total included 58 cases that hadn’t been previously reported.
Quebec has now reported a total of 60,627 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 5,696 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.
By Sidhartha Banerjee