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covid19 Opinion stories

Dr. Bonnie Henry pushes back against masks at school – somewhat

Militant mask advocates are too often preoccupied with policing who is and isn’t wearing a mask, rather than looking at the more complex and deep-rooted issues the pandemic is bringing to light.

Amidst the current climate of pro-mask vehemence, BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is pushing back against mandatory masks in school settings. Though Henry said at a Monday press conference there is “absolutely” a role for masks at school, she noted, “They are the end of our hierarchy of controls. The least effective of the layers that we need.”

At the past few coronavirus update press conferences, the bulk of journalists’ questions to Dr. Bonnie Henry have been about school reopening procedures – often specifically about whether children will be forced to wear masks.

In response to one such question, Henry stated “masks can interfere with the ability to learn, so I think there is a lot more that we need to understand.”

Henry also said, “To think of a young child — 10, 11, 12 — sitting all day in a classroom with a mask on is probably not realistic.”

Similarly, Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge has said teachers will not be required to wear masks in the classroom, in order to preserve the ease of interpersonal communication in the facilitation of learning: “Face-to-face contact, facial expressions, are important.”

When I heard Alberta schools were making masks mandatory for students in Grades 4–12 and Quebec was doing the same for Grades 5 and up (even if only when in hallways and in group settings), what came to mind was the flouting of school dress codes that is so common in the preteen and teen years. I expect that the older children and youth will be hanging masks off of their ears or pulling them down to their chins as soon as a teacher or staff member looks away. 

I enrolled my own child in part-time daycare in May, when the pandemic lockdowns were in full swing. I was fortunate to be able to do so; in other provinces, daycares weren’t open at all. I heard horror stories about how children enrolled in daycare and their parents constantly fall ill with colds, coughs and the flu, but none of us have ever been sick since starting our new childcare arrangement. This is likely because of the increased cleaning measures, and because no child showing any signs of illness is permitted to enter. There are no masks and no physical distancing at the daycare, and that’s the way it should be. It doesn’t bother me one bit. 

Because government data has confirmed that children are less likely to contract COVID-19 and pass it on to others, it wouldn’t bother me at a school either.

Children are needlessly suffering during the pandemic: with fewer or no opportunities to participate in sports and recreation or meet with peers, childhood physical activity is on the decline. Two in three children are reporting feelings of loneliness. Though complete studies are not done yet, there are concerns that teen substance abuse is on the rise.

Militant mask advocates are too often preoccupied with policing who is and isn’t wearing a mask, rather than looking at the more complex and deep-rooted issues the pandemic is bringing to light. 

Fortunately, Dr. Bonnie Henry is an authoritative voice pushing back against the mandatory mask brigade, even if in an ever-so-subtle manner.

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