Calgary may look to extend mandatory mask bylaw to schools for fall

As schools prepare to open for in-person classes this September, Calgary may extend its new mask bylaw to schools.

Mayor Nenshi says province's school re-entry plans do not go far enough to protect children

Given how crowded some schools can be, Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the city may have to extend its mandatory mask bylaw to protect students. (Halfpoint/Shutterstock)

As schools prepare to open for in-person classes this September, Calgary may extend its new mask bylaw to schools.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the province's mask recommendations do not go far enough to protect children, especially in crowded classrooms.

The Alberta government has encouraged masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially in indoor settings where maintaining a two-metre distance isn't possible. But it's not making masks mandatory.

"There's lots of ways to do this, lots of jurisdictions have done it," Nenshi said. "It's not like we're recreating anything here, but I think that it is fair to ask of the minister of education for a more thoughtful reopening plan than what we got yesterday."

Despite an increase in cases over the past number of days, the premier said going ahead with this re-entry plan showcases the success Alberta has had in fighting the virus.

"The return of more than 750,000 students to near-normal learning in the new school year is a testament to Albertans taking personal responsibility to help keep COVID-19 infections among the lowest per capita in the western world," said Premier Jason Kenney.

The province's top medical expert, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, recommends people should use a face covering if they can't stay more than two metres apart.

On Tuesday, council approved a bylaw requiring masks in all indoor public spaces as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 — but that bylaw does not affect schools.

Mayor Nenshi says he's hearing from parents.

"Certainly we need a better plan from the education minister," he said. "We need a better plan from the government of Alberta and if we don't have one, you know, the City of Calgary, we have to maintain people's safety and if we have to step into the fray, we will."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he's disappointed masks are not part of the province's school re-entry plan for September. (CBC)

The mayor said Wednesday that he's "nervous" about kindergarten to Grade 12 classes returning as near-to-normal, without mandatory masks, when daily COVID-19 infection rates are on the rise.

Alberta Health reported 589 active COVID-19 cases in Calgary, as of Wednesday. Across Alberta there were 133 new cases and two additional deaths. 

Dr. Amy Tan, one of the physicians behind the group Masks4Canada, is also calling for masks in schools.

"With large class sizes I can't envision that physical distancing will be able to be maintained," Tan said. "On top of the fact that kids developmentally and naturally want to seek out each other and touch each other."

Tan says she's also hearing from concerned parents — and teachers.

Masks4Canada sent letters to education ministers around the country and school boards this week calling for masks in schools this fall.

Nenshi called the mandating of masks a "very blunt tool" that he can use. 

It's expected that  amendments to the city's mask bylaw will come forward next Monday. 

Nenshi says that council meeting is the last one before the annual August break, and if the province doesn't act, he says council will not wait until mid-September to discuss the issue.

With files from Scott Dippel and The Canadian Press


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