Rethink decision to remove masks in schools, NB government watchdog says

New Brunswick Public Health should revisit its decision to remove masking requirements in schools with clear evidence of the factors to weigh and a plan to monitor student safety and staff absenteeism, recommends the Child and Youth Advocate. young people in a report published on Friday.

And the Department of Education should require school districts to meet their legal obligations to accommodate students affected by the relaxation of COVID-19 rules, Kelly Lamrock said.

In a scathing 23-page report. Lamrock makes a total of eight recommendations “aimed at improving the safety and quality” of the school environment for children.

He says there was “unclear responsibility” for the decision, an “overreliance” on following other provinces and a “mismatch” between public opinion that vaccines are more effective than masks and the “ factual evidence” that less than half of children attending schools are vaccinated.”

COVID-19 measures in schools, such as mandatory masking, were scrapped on March 14, the day students and teachers returned to class after the March break. All provincial COVID-19 restrictions were lifted the same day, with the end of the emergency order.

Lamrock launched an investigation into the government’s decision to remove some COVID measures in schools at the end of March.

He tabled his report Friday morning in the Legislative Assembly.

Other recommendations include:

  • Public Health, in consultation with the Department of Education, should clarify the health and learning indicators it tracks to judge the impact of removing the mask mandate and clearly specify what criteria would lead to a review. of the decision.
  • Departments of health and education should coordinate and publish clear protocols for school leaders regarding when a student should test, report, or not attend school due to exposure, symptoms, or of a positive test.
  • Public Health should consider the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on young people in its recommendations.
  • Public health and education should develop a strategy, “accompanied by regulation, if necessary”, to increase the low vaccination rate of children aged 5 to 11
  • Ministries of Health and Education should coordinate and publish a plan to make appropriate rapid tests available to schools

The government is not bound to implement the recommendations.

Although masking provides a layer of protection and public health supports its use, there is currently no evidence that it should be made mandatory.– Prime Minister Blaine Higgs

Earlier this week, when asked about the Lamrock review, Premier Blaine Higgs said the government would continue to follow public health advice, as it has throughout the pandemic.

“While masking provides a layer of protection and public health supports their use, there is no evidence at this time that it should be made mandatory when people would be fined or unable to attend school for not wear one,” Higgs said in an emailed statement.

“Learning to live with COVID-19 is about empowering ourselves to protect each other from infection.”

Masking could be rolled out again quickly in schools and could impact transmission rates within weeks, said Saint John neonatologist Dr. Alana Newman. (James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 40 of the province’s 54 active pediatricians have called for the reinstatement of mandatory universal mask wearing in schools for the remainder of the school year.

Liberal MP for Moncton Center Robert McKee also called on the government to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing for students and staff until at least the end of April, due to staffing issues at schools in his riding and a petition signed by 1,400 people.

The other three Atlantic provinces have all extended their mask mandates.

With the end of New Brunswick’s mandatory order, public health guidelines “changed from wearing a mask, in which they could face penalties such as a fine, to becoming a personal choice depending on their level of personal risk,” Higgs said.

This was based on the province having a “high level” of vaccination, he said.

“Public health could no longer justify recommending that people be fined for not wearing a mask. This public health advice was also disseminated in schools.”

Drop in cases under 19

Since then, public health has been tracking cases and risks to “determine if changes are needed,” Higgs said.

“Looking at data from cases in the under 19s, cases peaked in February when masking was still mandatory. There was an increase in cases when the mandatory order ended, as expected, and cases of COVID in this age group have been on a decline since.”

In March, parents were informed that they no longer need to notify their child’s school if they tested positive for COVID-19 and the school district’s COVID dashboards are no longer updated. .

“We know there are still absences from schools due to COVID, but there are also absences from schools due to the flu, a Norwalk virus that has been circulating and other reasons” , said Higgs.

Meanwhile, other jurisdictions, including neighboring provinces that have kept masks mandatory in schools, continue to see COVID cases at “a similar rate” to New Brunswick, he said. he declares.

Vaccination continues to be the best defense tool against COVID, Higgs added, noting that the province encourages everyone to get vaccinated and receive a booster dose as soon as they are eligible.

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