Back-to-school will look a whole lot different for returning students in Alberta. On Tuesday, August 4, Alberta's Education Minister Adriana LaGrange outlined the Alberta school re-entry plan. She announced that wearing masks in Alberta schools will be mandatory for students between grades 4 and 12. 

"Emerging evidence has made it clear that masks can play an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our schools," said LaGrange. 

"As a result, mask use for students in grades 4 to 12, as well as all school staff, will be mandatory when school returns for the 2020-2021 school year."

She added that staff will be required to wear masks in all settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained. 

Students, in addition, will have to wear them in all shared common areas, such as hallways and school buses. 

Mask use for kindergarten until grade three students will be optional. LaGrange said this will be because mask use for younger children is harder in terms of "proper fit and compliance."

"Current medical evidence indicates that children under 10 may be less likely than older children and adults to transmit COVID-19," said LaGrange. 

To lessen the financial burden of mask usage, the Government of Alberta will be providing every single student between kindergarten to grade 12 with two reusable masks. 

She said the government will also be providing masks to teachers, support staff, school staff, and bus drivers.

"In total, more than 1.6 million reusable masks will be provided to 740,000 students and 90,000 staff across our province," said the education minister.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's top doctor, also clarified that masks will not be mandatory when students are seated and the teacher is distanced from the students, but they will still be optional.

She said the mask mandate approach is similar to the plans put in place by Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.

"After reviewing the literature, I believe that requiring masks in all staff and all children grades four and above is essential to limiting the spread within schools and protecting the health of everyone involved," she said.

The top doctor stated that there's been a "great deal" of focus recently on mask-wearing, but she stressed that they only make up "one part" of the public health approach to protect schools from COVID-19.

Protocols such as hand washing, enhanced sanitation, physical distancing, and cohort learning will also be put in place to keep the school setting safe.

The government will be monitoring the mask protocols in schools and will be making further changes if needed.

"There is still no risk-free approach to living with COVID-19. As I've said before, we have no choice but to learn to live with it."

Therefore, everyone in the school will have to do their bit and follow public health guidelines, she said. 

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