Youth advocate says N.B. should revisit decision to end COVID restrictions in schools

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FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's government should review its decision to lift the COVID-19 mask mandate in schools because it was made without the proper evidence to justify it, Kelly Lamrock, the province's child, youth and seniors advocate, said Friday.

The government, Lamrock said, relied on what other provinces were doing, adding that he decided to look into the issue after receiving letters of concern and hearing troubling public statements from officials.

Neither the chief medical officer of health nor the Department of Education explained the evidence behind the move to lift restrictions March 14, he said in his report. Each office said the other was free to review or change the decision, Lamrock said.

“This public sense of vagueness and confusion was not in best interest of the children.” He said the government should revisit its decision.

"We think that when we are dealing with issues of public health, particularly with children, that there should be decisions that are being measured and someone is clearly accountable for having said, 'Here's what's going to happen and here's how we're going to revisit it if it changes,'" Lamrock told reporters Friday.

He suggests New Brunswick reinstate masking in schools until May 21, and then review the decision.

"This would allow for a public health process that addresses the concerns we have raised here," Lamrock said.

Green Party member Megan Mitton says the mask mandate in schools should be reimplemented immediately. She's also calling for rapid tests to be available to all students and staff in schools.

Liberal Opposition Leader Roger Melanson said politics played a role in the decision to lift the mask mandate in schools and that he agrees masking should be restored right away.

"I'm really concerned about the politics that seems to be played by the premier and his government in managing the pandemic at this time," Melanson told reporters Friday.

"How can we be reassured that the decision they made March 14 is the right one and was based on science?" he asked.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy and Health Minister Dorothy Shephard issued a joint statement Friday saying they would consider the recommendations of the advocate.

Cardy, who is a strong proponent of masking, told reporters later in the day he would continue following public health advice and wouldn't reinstate masking in schools on his own.

"My personal opinion does not direct policy, and it shouldn't because I am not a doctor, not an epidemiologist, and I will take my direction on those subjects from those people," Cardy said.

Cardy also said he won't be swayed by the fact that mask mandates are still in use in some provinces, including Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. "What other provinces are or are not doing is of no concern to me at all."

Melanson said the two departments are just tossing the ball back and forth, adding that he finds that very concerning.

Aside from revisiting the decision on masking, Lamrock issued a number of other recommendations, including that the government create a clear protocol for rapid testing in schools.

He said public health should factor into its recommendations the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on youth. He also recommended the province create a strategy to increase the vaccination rate of children aged five to 11.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2022.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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