Students flocking back to the classroom following the March break vacation this week were able to remove their masks once seated, as public health measures were eased for elementary and secondary students across the province on Monday.
Quebec’s interim director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, explained that from a public health perspective, the benefits of allowing children to remove their masks at this stage outweigh the risks, as so many Quebecers are now assumed to have been exposed to the virus. He admitted the loosening of the mask mandate represented a calculated risk.
“There are mixed reactions,” says the New Frontiers School Board director general, Rob Buttars. “I think everybody is concerned about the speed of it,” he says, suggesting that while the case number within the schools have been fairly low and are on a downward trend, people are nervous about loosening measures so quickly.
Buttars says there is also concern that staff members and families will have travelled over the March break, and that this may contribute to an increase in cases. He is confident, however, that the school community will continue to act responsibly now that students have returned, by keeping symptomatic children at home and reporting any positive cases that develop.
Mask mandates in general are expected to come to an end by mid-April, when the face coverings will no longer be required in most public places. This excludes users of public transport, who will have to wait until at least the month of May to remove their masks.
Boileau suggested the wearing of masks will eventually become a personal choice. “We will not recommend they not be worn; however, the wearing of a mask will no longer be obligatory,” he explained. Boileau also announced that vaccine passports will no longer be necessary to access public venues, such as restaurants, bars, and theatres, and that businesses will be able to operate at full capacity by March 12.
The Omicron wave continues to recede in the region. In the 24 hours preceding March 7, a total of 37 cases were recorded in the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network, which is around the same level as in mid-December when the Omicron wave first spiked. During the same period, at least 115 cases were reported in the Suroît LHN, while the Vaudreuil-Soulanges LHN saw 263 cases diagnosed and the Jardins-Roussillon LHN added 259 cases. While these statistics are an under-representation of the virus’s spread, as the numbers reflect only those eligible for PCR testing, they do provide a degree of reassurance that we are now riding out the fifth wave.