Quebec will officially lift its indoor mask mandate on May 14, the province’s acting director of public health announced Wednesday.
Dr. Luc Boileau indicated that hospitalizations and absences of health system personnel were on the decline, which informed his recommendation. The Government of Quebec then accepted his suggestion to terminate the mandate.
“The whole picture is getting better,” he said.
However, he said masks will still be needed in health care settings, where vulnerable populations could potentially be exposed, and on public transport, because it is more difficult to maintain a minimum distance between passengers.
On the other hand, primary and secondary schools will be authorized to deposit the masks. Students will no longer be required to wear a mask for any of their activities, whether in class, in cafeterias, or when walking through hallways. The same goes for the teaching staff.
Wearing a mask will also be optional on school transport, since the students will have spent the whole day together, said Mr. Boileau.
“It wouldn’t make sense to make masking mandatory [in school buses],” he said.
Boileau clarified that masks were still recommended in certain situations, including when you have symptoms, saying “you don’t need to be sure it’s COVID” to wear a mask and be on the safe side.
The province’s mandatory mask mandate has been in place since July 2020, for a total of 21 consecutive months, and will be the last province to require masks in most indoor spaces.
Prince Edward Island, the only other province still with a mandate in place, lifts its order on Friday, May 6.
Experts urge caution on unmasking
However, some believe the province should take its time and not lift the mask mandate so soon.
Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, said masks not only work against COVID-19, but also the flu, which is circulating widely in the province.
The combination of the two puts additional pressure on hospitals across the province, he said.
“[Influenza] really shows up and faces a health care system that has already been and continues to be under pressure,” he told CBC Montreal. Dawn.
“Why aren’t we giving our hospitals every advantage we can as we’re still trying to regain some balance?”
Ooughton suggested the government maintain the mandate on a weekly basis.
But Simon Bacon, professor of behavioral medicine at Concordia University, said many are frustrated with the mask mandate in particular, in part because they don’t understand why it’s still mandatory.
“People don’t really know why they should do this,” he said. “Obviously we know the pandemic is here, but on the one hand the government is saying that we are going to maintain these measures in certain places. And on the other hand they are sort of getting rid of everything.
“There is this contradiction on a global level,” he said.
Bacon said there would likely be some “tension” between those who choose to continue wearing masks and those who don’t, but suggested peer pressure at the community level will likely set the norm.
For example, in schools, he said “the social norm of a particular class” seems to determine whether or not children keep their masks on.
“What will invariably happen is that a lot of people will kind of start relying on what’s going on around them,” he said.