Masks won't be mandatory as P.E.I. public schools open this fall

·3 min read
Masks will be optional on school buses and classrooms in P.E.I. schools as classes resume on Sept. 7. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
Masks will be optional on school buses and classrooms in P.E.I. schools as classes resume on Sept. 7. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

Students and school staff will not be required to wear masks in school buildings or on school buses when classes resume on Sept. 7, according to guidance issued by P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Office on Thursday.

However, the Back-to-School Public Health Guidance document says masks are encouraged and anyone who wants to wear a mask should be supported.

Masks are being recommended whenever physical distancing is not possible for staff who work with students who are at higher risk of severe illness and outcomes from COVID-19.

"An increase in COVID-19 activity is expected this fall, with the return to school and other activities, but it is our goal to have students return with routine measures in place for as long as possible," Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said in a news release.

"As a province, the most important thing we can do to support those returning to school is being reminded of the many layers of protection we have in place, including getting vaccinated, staying home when you are not feeling well and following testing and isolation guidance if you develop symptoms."

Boosters recommended for kids 5 and up

The province is also recommending kids aged five to 11 receive a booster dose this fall.

"Parents and guardians are urged to make sure that they and their children are up to date on their vaccinations including boosters," the province said in a release.

"In particular we would like to encourage all children to get the needed vaccines ... as they return to school (if eligible).

As we begin preparations for children to return to school, keeping our children up-to-date on their vaccinations, including boosters, will help to continue to protect them against severe illness."

Earlier this month, the Pfizer vaccine was authorized as a booster dose in children five to 11 years of age — the first COVID-19 vaccine authorized as a booster dose in this age group.

Kids aged five to 11 are advised to receive another dose if it's been six months since their last dose. Those who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 are advised to wait three months after symptoms started or the positive test was taken in order to get the best protection from the vaccine.

The current recommendations include three doses for immunocompromised individuals and two doses for everyone else who is eligible, plus two boosters for anyone over the age of 12. If it has been three to six months since the last dose of vaccine, individuals who are 12 and over are advised to get another dose.

Children six months to 11 years can get vaccinated at a Public Health nursing clinic, while those over 12 can be vaccinated at their local pharmacy.

Currently 54 per cent of children five to 11 years of age in P.E.I. have been vaccinated.

More restrictions possible

Morrison's office is stressing routine public health measures for managing the spread of contagious illness as the 2022-2023 school year starts. These measures include:

  • Encouraging vaccination and booster doses of vaccine when a child or adult is eligible.

  • Urging people to stay home when they feel unwell.

  • Encouraging people to get tested for COVID-19 when symptoms develop and follow current guidance regarding isolation.

  • Promoting good hand hygiene, routine cleaning and disinfection.

  • Encouraging outdoor time and good indoor air quality in schools.

The Chief Public Health Office said more restrictions will be brought back if there's a fall wave of COVID-19.

The guidance document said that could include the return of mandatory masks on buses and while people are moving around in schools, as well as screening with take-home rapid tests and "outbreak management measures as needed."

The update was released just hours after Opposition MLA Lynne Lund called for the government to release its back-to-school COVID-19 plan, pointing out that Sept. 7 was now less than two weeks away.