Quebec students will have to wear a mask on school buses and in common areas but not in classrooms, outside or in after school care as they head back to class in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province’s education minister said Wednesday.
Jean-François Roberge laid out the details for measures in elementary and high schools as the academic year looms and novel coronavirus cases continue to rise.
“We’ve been preparing for several months,” he said, describing the plan as “cautious but responsible.”
There will be no class bubbles this time, unlike last year, according to Roberge. Sports and extracurricular activities will also be permitted, but a vaccination passport could be mandatory for high school students in cases that are deemed to be high risk.
While there will still be some restrictions in schools, he explained that “important gains” have been made and will allow students to find some normalcy thanks to the vaccination campaign.
The minister warned the plan may need to be adjusted depending on the COVID-19 situation, as infections climb, in order to keep schools open. Roberge did say, however, that he’s encouraged by vaccination figures in the 12 to 17 year age bracket: 83 per cent have received or signed up for a first dose while 77 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Dr. Yves Jalbert, a medical advisor with the public health department, said they are closely monitoring the situation and will make changes if needed.
“We have to walk a narrow path between allowing students to come back to a normal way of life and fighting this pandemic,” he said.
Under the same plan, Quebec will not require teachers to be vaccinated. Roberge told reporters that vaccination rates are high among educators and that public health officials did not recommend mandatory immunization.
Teachers and other school staff will not be required to wear masks in the classroom if they can maintain a two-metre distance from students. Masks will be mandatory in hallways, common areas and when moving around the school.
The long-awaited plan for the education network comes as the province reported a surge in new infections, with 365 new cases Wednesday. The latest daily tally marks a jump of 131 cases from the previous day.
With infections on the rise, the number of pandemic-related hospitalizations climbed over the past two days.
The back-to-school framework also comes one day after the province revealed how its vaccination passport system will work to access non-essential services starting in September. Health Minister Christian Dubé warned that a fourth wave of the health crisis is “inevitable.”
—with files from Global News’ Dan Spector and The Canadian Press