Public health experts, teachers and students are all asking the Legault government to make wearing masks in classrooms mandatory as the second wave of Covid-19 accelerates across Quebec.
Many are pointing to schools in Ontario, where the virus is about three times less widespread than in Quebec schools.
Multiple factors help explain the discrepancy; the academic year started earlier in Quebec, and more students are attending classes in person.
But doctors say the main difference in Ontario is that all students from fourth grade on must wear face-coverings whenever they are on school property. In Quebec, mask use begins in grade five, and students are allowed to remove their masks in classrooms and in the schoolyard.
"Absolutely the thing which we can do today is mandate the use of masks in schools," Dr. Matthew Oughton, attending physician in the Jewish General Hospital's infectious diseases division, told CBC News in an interview Wednesday.
Oughton said crowded indoor spaces, such as classrooms, pose a risk.
"More crowded conditions equals higher number of face-to-face interactions equals higher chance of transmissions," Oughton said.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said the ministry is in discussions with public health authorities about the possibility.
"For the moment, we have no recommendation formulated by Public Health, but if we need to take additional measures to protect our schools, we will," the spokesperson said.
Oughton said that the government shouldn't wait.
"The time to institute preventative measures is before there is a major problem, not afterwards," he said.
Teachers and students join call for more mask use
Teachers and students are also asking for tighter rules on masks.
Several teachers unions have issued public appeals for the mandatory wearing of masks in the classroom in so-called 'red' zones for at least the next 14 days.
"There's an inconsistency between rules applied in Ontario (where the mask is mandatory) and in Quebec where, even in the red zone, the mask is still not prescribed for students," said a statement from the CSQ labour federation emailed to CBC News.
"We officially call on public health to be accountable on these important questions while Quebec is reconfining," the statement continued.
A student-led walkout is planned this week in at least one Montreal school, Lasalle Community Comprehensive High School, to highlight the need for the measure.
"One of the main problems in the schools at the moment is that the students cannot social distance properly within the classroom because some of the classrooms are too small. Many of the classrooms do not have windows, or proper ventilation," Lasalle student Lily Rowe wrote in an open letter posted on Facebook.
"If wearing a mask is mandatory everywhere else, why is it not mandatory in classrooms? Many students don't wear the mask in the classrooms, and most don't in the hallways," Rowe continued.
Legault, Arruda say not yet
Premier François Legault told a news conference on Tuesday he has no plans to impose a full-time mask requirement, because "we haven't had any recommendations from public health to wear masks full time."
A few moments later, the provincial public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, left the door open to eventually issuing that advice.
"What I can say is that we are following the situation day by day," he said. "I'm not (saying) that we will not make any changes on that. But, for the moment, there is no change," Arruda said.
"If there is a big transmission in schools, that we think we can prevent with some measures, we will add them. But (presently) that's not the case."