Quebec plans 'normal' return to school in fall without masks or class bubbles

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MONTREAL — Quebec kids and teens should be able to go back to school without masks or classroom bubbles in the fall — as long as COVID-19 cases are low and students are vaccinated, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said Wednesday.

Authorities, Roberge said, are banking on a relatively "normal" return to class, which will include field trips, open common lunchrooms and full-time, in-person attendance. The plan depends on making sure at least 75 per cent of kids 12 to 17 are vaccinated against COVID-19, he said, encouraging parents and teens to book appointments.

"It's our vigilance, our prudence that will allow us to have a good summer and allow our children, finally, to have a good school year," he told a news conference in Quebec City.

Roberge said about 45 per cent of people aged 12 to 17 have received a vaccine or have made an appointment to get one. Many more kids, he added, are expected to be vaccinated through their schools in the coming weeks.

The Education Department is willing to adjust the reopening plan if COVID-19 cases rise, he said, adding that health orders such as mask-wearing would likely apply only to affected schools.

The reopening plan will require students to wash their hands frequently and includes improved ventilation systems in schools.

Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda told reporters that health officials will study several factors before making a final decision on how schools will reopen. The return to class without masks is possible even if vaccine rates don't hit 75 per cent as long as other factors are favourable, he said.

"In a pandemic, in COVID-19, three months is an eternity," Arruda said.

"'Will there be a new variant? What will the epidemiology be? If there are still very few cases, it’s possible we still accept (to proceed)."

A final decision would be made at the end of the summer, he said.

Arruda also said his office will re-evaluate its decision to cancel proms for graduating high school seniors. He said that while current vaccine rates among youth are too low for traditional proms, he will reconsider when, and in what form, celebrations could safely take place.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported fewer than 300 new COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive day, with 288 additional infections and five more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Hospitalizations dropped by 14, to 340, while the number of people in intensive care dropped by nine, to 77.

Health officials said 67,165 doses of COVID-19 were administered in the previous 24 hours and several thousand were added to the total from earlier, for a total of 5,727,540 vaccine doses. About 61.9 per cent of Quebecers have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said on Twitter that the government was about 50,000 doses away from reaching its June 15 target of vaccinating 5.3 million Quebecers with a first dose.

The province said late Tuesday it had confirmed a ninth case of a rare blood-clotting event involving a person who had received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Authorities said in a news release the person had been treated and was recovering at home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2021.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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