Quebec won't require students to wear face masks in classrooms this fall
MONTREAL -- Quebec is making its new vaccine passport mandatory for some extracurricular activities at schools this fall, the province's education minister announced Wednesday.
During a press conference on Quebec's back-to-school plans, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge also announced that students will have to wear face masks while entering schools, in common areas and on school buses, but will not be required while seated in the classroom, outdooors, or in daycare settings.
Provincial officials assured the public they will do whatever they can to ensure students can return to the classroom this fall, while at the same time introducing other measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus as Quebec enters a fourth wave of the pandemic.
The plan comes after months of consultation, Roberge said, and assessments of the current COVID-19 situation in Quebec.
"In high school, the vaccination passport will be mandatory to take part in certain extracurricular activities considered high risk," said Junior Education Minister Isabelle Charest, without providing examples of which activities would be demmed "high risk."
"The more students will be vaccinated, the fewer activities will be regulated," she added.
Currently, 83 per cent of high school children have received one dose of a vaccine and 77 per cent have received or have an appointment for a second dose.
School staff, however, will not be required to be vaccinated, according to Roberge, since it was not recommended by public health, and school bubbles will no longer be used.
Roberge and Charest were joined by public health strategic medical advisor Dr. Yves Jalbert for the news conference.
In explaining the rationale for not requiring a face mask in the classroom, Jalbert explained the risk of transmission is much lower and they wanted to allow for "a more normal life in school."
"Even if you are infected with a virus, your capacity to expel a virus is mostly important when you sing, shout or are exercising. If you're sitting and you don't shout loud, you will expel much less virus and the virus will just go down around you," he said. "So, the experience tells us that this is less risky for your surroundings than carrying the virus in the hallways when you walk with a lot of people around you."
NO CO2 READERS IN SCHOOLS FOR START OF SCHOOL YEAR
Despite assurances from the province about its plans, unions have been voicing their concerns in recent days, calling for better implementation of health measures.
Roberge held a meeting last week with various teachers and school staff unions, where representatives said many teachers are juggling “anxiety-provoking factors.”
While they want to return to the classroom, union leaders say teachers are worried about air quality and the implementation of CO2 detectors.
Roberge confirmed on Wednesday that CO2 monitors will be installed between now and the end of 2021.
The province's education ministry has been criticized by opposition parties for delaying a tender for the purchase of CO2 readers.
Announced for mid-June, it was finally launched on July 16 and will close on August 16, two weeks before the start of the school year.
"We went as fast as we could to ensure a quality process," said Marc Sirois, deputy minister for the education ministry.
He noted that the province is "the first jurisdiction in Canada" to have such a system, as CO2 readers are a good indicator of indoor air quality -- a high reading would indicate the air circulation is poor.
In addition, teachers are calling for mandatory COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated staff.
In early June, Roberge said the province was aiming for a 100 per cent return to normalcy in classrooms with no masks or bubbles, if the epidemiological situation permits.
On Tuesday, the province outlined a plan to implement vaccine passports for public events, training facilities, bars and restaurants and said it would return to weekly news conferences to provide updates on the current epidemiological situation in Quebec.
-- with files from The Canadian Press.