After the province announced Tuesday that students between grades 4 and 12 will be required to wear masks in common areas when they return to school in the fall, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health told reporters she feels her school re-entry recommendations have been supported by the government.
“I have provided my best advice and recommendations with respect to school re-entry, and the recommendations that I’ve made based on best evidence — as you heard this morning — have been accepted and supported,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference in Edmonton.
She was answering a question posed by a journalist, asking her to comment on social media posts questioning whether she is forthright with the public when it comes to her views on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to back-to-school plans.
“There is no one right way forward and we all need to be engaged in the discussion, but from my personal perspective, the recommendations that I’ve made, again, are about returning with that balance of all the needs of our kids and keeping — of course — staff and teachers safe, but this is not black and white.”
In a statement to Global News, Premier Jason Kenney’s press secretary said the government is “grateful for the steady leadership that Dr. Deena Hinshaw has shown throughout this pandemic.”
“The sound, evidence-based advice she has given cabinet at every stage of this journey has been invaluable,” Christine Myatt wrote in an email. “It is disappointing to see partisans on Twitter attack Dr. Hinshaw’s credibility and cast aspersions for political gain.
“Alberta owes Dr. Hinshaw and her team of dedicated public servants a debt of gratitude.”
Hinshaw has been vocal about her belief that face coverings are a useful tool to help reduce the novel coronavirus’ ability to spread among the population.
Last month, the Alberta government said it was not planning to impose a provincial requirement for people to wear masks in public, arguing such decisions should be left to municipalities as the coronavirus situation varies greatly in different regions of the province.
At a news conference last week, Hinshaw was asked several times whether she’s ever recommended the province make masks mandatory.
“I have never brought forward a formal recommendation for a province-wide mandatory mask policy,” she answered.
At the same news conference, Hinshaw reminded reporters that while Alberta is allowing municipalities to decide whether to bring in rules regarding mask-wearing, the province has consistently promoted the benefits of wearing masks and advised people to do so in public spaces, even going so far as to distribute millions of free masks throughout the province.
At last Thursday’s news conference, Hinshaw also said the province was still “assessing the evidence relevant to masks” in the school context.
On Tuesday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said “emerging evidence has made it clear that masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.”
In response to the question about her transparency with regard to her views on Alberta’s back-to-school plan, Hinshaw reminded reporters Tuesday that just like others in the province, she has a vested interest in helping to ensure the plan is safe for everyone.
“I have children in school, I have nieces and nephews in school, I have friends and family members who teach or work in schools,” she said.
“I have a very strong interest, not only in the safety and health of all Albertans — that’s my job and I take that very seriously — but I have many people who I personally love and care about who will be in schools in the fall.
“There really is no one perfect answer to schools and I completely understand that people are concerned. There’s a lot of anxiety because we haven’t had school for many months and going back to school in the fall will be our first personal experience with schooling in a COVID(-19) environment.”
On Tuesday, Hinshaw also reiterated that the back-to-school plan incorporates the need to address the mental health needs of students.
“If we focus only on COVID(-19) and we only think about the COVID(-19) risk, then we miss the opportunity to support the overall health of our children and we really need to balance — as I said earlier — all of the needs of our kids, not just the need to protect them from COVID(-19),” she said.
“There will be families where — for them — it’s not the right thing to send their children back to school, for either their child’s health or for someone in the household’s health, and there absolutely needs to be options to support those families so that they can make the right decision that’s best for them.
“So what I would say is that the back-to-school plan provides what I think is the best balance for the entire population and it also provides flexibility so that individuals can make the right choice for themselves and their family.”
Watch below: Some Global News videos about Alberta’s back-to-school plan.