When Morgan Novik returned to class for her senior year last week, the Regina high school student said it was a little odd and overwhelming to see her classmates without their masks on.
"I forgot how many people went to my school — even in the hallways, just walking through, there were so many more people than I remembered," she said, noting last year's rotating schedule had her seeing the same students almost every day.
However, in her first three days back, Novik said most students — an estimated 15 out of 20 in a classroom — still voluntarily masked up.
"Slowly, as the days progressed last week, it would then be only one person not wearing a mask," she said. "People were just getting used to it again and starting to wear masks on their own."
When the Regina and Saskatoon public and Catholic school divisions announced last week they would be reinstating the mask requirement in high schools, it didn't come as a surprise to Novik.
"I don't really see a reason [to lift the mandate], just because of the amount of people in schools. There's no possible way we can physically distance," she said. "And I don't think it's a horrible idea."
Colleen Patterson, who has a son in Grade 10 at Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon, said she and her family are also on board.
"I'm quite thankful," the mother said. "I was disappointed that it wasn't mandatory from the beginning [of the school year] but I'm glad they only waited three days before they decided that it would start to be mandatory in high schools."
Patterson said she doesn't believe masks, immunizations or vaccine passports alone are the solution to ending the pandemic — but a combination of them all.
"Vaccinations were a good start and I think that masks are an extra layer," she said, adding she'd like to learn more about how ventilation has been improved in schools as well.
"Everything that we can do and everything that we can layer on, I'm choosing to view it as positive."
Lack of consistency across Sask. 'unfortunate,' says doctor
With the Saskatchewan government having individual school divisions come up with their own COVID-19 protocols, masks aren't mandatory at every school — or, in some, only in certain common areas.
Dr. Kevin Wasko, a physician executive for integrated rural health with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, says that patchwork system isn't helping the surging COVID-19 numbers across the province.
"Masking in any indoor spaces in our schools province-wide is really what should have been put in place from the outset. It's unfortunate that didn't happen," Wasko said in an interview with CBC Radio's The Morning Edition Tuesday.
"Anywhere that the virus can spread, masks can help prevent that."
Last month, a back-to-school planning document written by Saskatchewan's medical health officers and sent to provincial school divisions strongly recommended mask use for staff, students and visitors.
"For indoor events such as gym classes, choir and band practice, we suggest that where possible and practical, mask use be promoted," the document said.
"Regardless of immunization status, all persons are encouraged to wear masks as the possibility of disease acquisition and transmission remains."
Education Minister Dustin Duncan has called the planning guide a "technical draft document," noting it was only meant to propose recommendations for school divisions.
The Saskatchewan Medical Association has raised concern about the province's approach, considering the rise of the delta variant and kids under 12 not being eligible to receive their vaccine.