Alberta health experts are questioning where Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is getting her information from when in comes to the use of masks in schools.
Kids from kindergarten to Grade 12 haven’t been required to wear masks in school since February, when the Alberta government lifted school mask mandates.
Smith wants to make sure they won’t ever have to wear them again.
In a statement on Saturday Smith said: “Our government will not permit any further masking mandates of children in Alberta’s K-12 education system.
“The detrimental effects of masking on the mental health, development and education of children in classroom settings is well understood, and we must turn the page on what has been an extremely difficult time for children, along with their parents and teachers.”
“I would like the premier to provide evidence, and provide reference for her statement about masks harming, because most such statements were debunked,” said Gosia Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist and researcher at the University of Calgary and co-founder of Zero Covid Canada.
“It is strong misinformation,” Gasperowicz said.
Dr. Sam Wong is the president of pediatrics with the Alberta Medical Association. He said he would also like to know where Smith is getting her evidence.
“I certainly have not seen it as a pediatrician,” Wong said. “From a developmental point of view, I don’t think there’s much in the way of issues with masking in schools because a lot of development can happen at home as well.
“Certainly, some kids have a harder time with masking because of autism or because of other developmental concerns, but for the majority of students, I’m not sure what evidence she’s talking about demonstrating the adverse effects of masking on these aspects of development,” Wong said.
Wong said he’s not aware of any studies in Alberta that show detrimental effects of masking. He said there is some conflicting evidence about masking when it comes to speech development but he says most speech is done at home.
“It’s hard to really isolate the detrimental effects with masking in school as isolated from the overall effects of COVID,” he added.
Wong said he’s concerned about the message Smith’s statement sends about the use of masks generally.
“Masks do work and so I do think that by casting doubt on the evidence that we do already have about masks, it causes problems,” Wong said.
Dr. Cora Constantinescu is a pediatrician and an infectious disease physician in Calgary.
She said the benefits of wearing a mask is backed by science.
“I do not want to get into the politics of keeping our kids healthy but as a parent and infectious disease doctor, it is clear to me that we cannot rely on government to keep our kids safe,” Constantinescu said in a statement to Global News.
“The onus is on each of us as parents to do the right thing to keep our kids healthy and learning: if you don’t want your kids sick and missing out on learning and infecting others who might be more vulnerable, and you don’t want to miss work yourself, have your kids wear a mask.
“It is backed by science and common sense. That’s what my kids will be doing.”
Wing Li with Support our Students would prefer if medical experts and school boards could make the decision on masks based on the current state of the pandemic or a future one, rather than have the decision made preemptively by the premier.
“She’s trying to pander to the people that are scared and it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous misinformation and school boards need to be flexible,” Li said.
Dr, Jon Meddings, a former dean of the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, said in a tweet: “The court said (reasonably) that an expert should decide public health interventions. Not a Twitter expert and not a politician. We may need masking again in the future. Having a politician (non expert) preemptively preclude that shows how far we have sunk.”
Global News reached out to Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping for comment. This article will be updated if/when we receive a response.
Alberta Health Services had no comment on the matter.
On Saturday, Smith said her cabinet will explore how to assert the government’s authority to keep mask mandates out of schools in the future.