Province's advice on masks in classroom makes head of Sask. Medical Association 'very nervous'

The province recommends mask use for unvaccinated students and staff in common areas, but says it's fine to remove them when seated in class. The president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association says that advice is disappointing.

Government's recommendations say students can remove masks when seated in classroom

The government of Saskatchewan released its back-to-school recommendations on Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The head of the Saskatchewan Medical Association says he's disappointed by the province's recent back-to-school COVID-19 recommendations.

On Friday, the provincial government sent a news release outlining recommendations, but not mandates, for students and staff.

The province recommends mask use for unvaccinated students and staff in common areas, like hallways, washrooms, lunch rooms, libraries and school buses.

But when students are seated in the classroom, "it is appropriate to remove masks," the province's guidelines say.

"We are very concerned about the potential for spread in schools and the impact that it has on everything that fans out from that," said medical association president Eben Strydom.

Strydom points to rising case numbers and relatively low vaccination rates as causes for concern when students return to class in the next two weeks.

As of Aug. 14, less than 52 per cent of Saskatchewan children age 12-17 were fully vaccinated, according to federal government data.

There are no vaccines currently approved in Canada for those under 12.

"We're back in a situation where everybody needs to be extremely careful. We need to work together to lower the risk for … everybody in our community so we get this under control," said Strydom.

He says the province's recommendation that students can take their masks off in the classroom makes him "very nervous," and he wants to see a more careful approach to mask use at this time.

"We know that some of these classes have more children and they can't keep the social distancing at an optimum. So I think it would be it would be risky to do that," Strydom said.

"I think a better way, [until] we see how things go and we get more people vaccinated, would be to be conservative and wear them all the time. We know how kids talk and enjoy and laugh and joke, and that's how … [the coronavirus is] spread."

'It's far from over': parent

Tanya Laird said she's not feeling good about the recommendations, as her 10-year-old son gets ready to start Grade 5 in Saskatoon.

"I think it's foolish to not mask up when our numbers are going up and the delta variant is very obviously here," she said, referring to the highly contagious strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"Just from looking at the United States and how things are happening there, kids are getting hit harder by this, and my son can't vaccinate yet. So, you know, what do I do?"

Laird said she's waiting for school divisions to unveil their plans before she decides whether to send her son to class or keep him home. She chose to home-school her son during the last academic year.

This time around, she hopes he can return to the classroom. He misses his friends and home-schooling was difficult on the family financially, she said.

If masks are mandated, Laird said she will send him back class.

"I just wish people would stop acting like this is over, because it's far from over."

Many Saskatchewan school divisions, including the public and Catholic divisions in Regina and Saskatoon, have not announced their back-to-school protocols yet.

With files from Omayra Issa and Scott Larson


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