School health measures now include mandatory masks for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.
All students in Grades 4-12, staff and teachers in public, separate, Francophone, charter and independent schools will receive two reusable masks from the Alberta government.
Over 1.6 million masks will be distributed to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff with additional masks being available in the schools if required.
“The safety of our staff and students continues to be my number one priority,” said Adriana LaGrange, minister of education, in a press release. “Since cancelling in-person classes in March and developing our school re-entry plan, we have been clear that we would continue to adapt our guidelines as necessary based on current medical advice.”
“These new safety measures will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools, and we will continue to work with our school authorities to ensure they are equipped for a successful start to the school year.”
Mask use for teachers and staff in all settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained will be mandatory. Students will also be required to wear them in all shared and common areas such as hallways and on buses.
Students and staff who are unable to wear a mask due to medical or other needs will be exempted.
Mask use for kindergarten to Grade 3 students will continue to be optional as use for younger children is difficult with proper fit and compliance.
“After reviewing the emerging evidence, it is clear that masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19. I am not making this updated recommendation lightly, but acting on the best current evidence available,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said.
“While masks are important, I want to stress that they are only one of the many public health measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of students, staff and families.”
About 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer will be distributed between all school authorities. The amount provided will be based on student population.
Two contactless thermometers will also be given to each school to assist with managing student and staff health.
School staff will receive one reusable face shield for use in the schools and should be used at the discretion of the individual staff member. A mask must still be worn while using the shield.
Bevan Daverne, president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents, says the announcement demonstrates Alberta Education’s willingness to take the necessary steps to support the safety of staff and students.
Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services are working to expand the texting capacity and reduce turnaround times for testing so anyone with symptoms or in close contact of cases, including teachers, staff and students, can be tested and receive results promptly.
The Province announced students and staff would return to school under near-normal daily operations with health measures on July 21.