An open letter to Dennis King: Help protect PEI children by keeping masks in schools

An open letter to Dennis King: Help protect PEI children by keeping masks in schools

May 2, 2022
Signatures: 100Next Goal: 200
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Why this petition matters

COVID-19 has thrown the entire world upside down, and humans have had to adapt to a virus that is ever-evolving, with new variants emerging and new scientific research taking place to help fight this pandemic. Amidst all of the change and uncertainty, we have learned that masks are one of the most effective tools in preventing transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms. 

The scientific research of mask effectiveness is comprehensive and conclusive: Masking reduces the spread of COVID-19. In October 2021, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States published a series of peer-reviewed articles related to masking effectiveness in schools. Data showed that in areas with school mask requirements, the number of COVID-19 cases was reduced by at last half. A similar study was conducted by Public Health Ontario, with findings released in February 2022 that supported those of the CDC.

On April 26, 2022, the Government of PEI announced that students will no longer have to wear masks when seated in the classroom. The assumption being made is that students are physically distancing in their classrooms. Due to the small and often crowded nature of Island classrooms, we know this is not happening, and children will now be unmasked and in close contact with others for large portions of the school day. Therefore, we ask the Government of PEI to reconsider its position regarding masking in schools.

Teachers and students have voiced concerns over physical limitations in schools. On March 21, 2022, changes to cohort rules took place, meaning that students now come in contact with more children than they were before PEI experienced community spread of COVID-19. We also know that many Island schools still have not received support to upgrade necessary ventilation systems to improve air quality. 

Wearing masks is a simple action that students, teachers, and staff can take to help reduce further spread of COVID-19.

As COVID-19 spread throughout PEI and identifying exposure sites and close contacts became increasingly challenging, parents, teachers, school staff, and students were faced with potentially unsafe environments. While the Government of PEI told Islanders to assess personal risk and make decisions accordingly, the very data that would allow us to do so was gradually reduced to the point where we now just assume, as per Dr. Heather Morrison’s advice, COVID-19 is everywhere. As data pertaining to COVID-19 exposure sites became harder to gather, wearing masks remains an effective way to protect those entering spaces where this virus is circulating. 

Jurisdictions that have lifted mask mandates in schools are now experiencing high absenteeism rates in both students and teachers, so much so that some schools have been forced to close for periods of time. Cases of COVID-19 are rising and spreading, and there does not seem to be any end in sight. 

By exposing our children to COVID-19 (thereby acknowledging and accepting that more of PEI’s children, teachers, and their families will get sick), you are creating a trickle-down effect that will overburden our already struggling healthcare system.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, continues to advise Canadians to wear masks, despite local government policy, and PEI’s own Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, has stated, repeatedly, that masking is "highly recommended."  Doctors across the country, including the head of SickKids Hospital, echo this sentiment. Please recall that Dr. Morrison said transmission between children is primarily happening when they are unmasked.  Wearing masks aligns with recommended advice from Canada’s top medical specialists as an active protective layer against COVID-19.

Given the tight-knit nature of our Island community, we can assume that COVID-19 outbreaks that occur in our school system will spread to families, friends, and the general community. Protecting our PEI school children helps protect us all.

COVID-19 is not mild for everyone, and there is no scientific indicator of degree severity a person will experience who contracts this virus. Additionally, not enough time has passed to allow for substantial research on the long-term health effects of COVID-19. Removing masks increases the risk of further COVID-19 cases, the number of people who will experience long COVID, and disproportionately and negatively affects immune compromised people. 

When you ran for premier, Mr. King, your platform was focusing on people. We now ask you to do exactly that. We ask you to put PEI’s people first—specifically, our Island children, our hardworking teachers and school staff, and parents, who worry every day for their children's safety. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, you showed that you valued Islanders’ health above all else. We ask that you return to this state of mind.

Please do not rely on individuals’ interpretation of a policy “recommendation" with little data to properly access personal risk. We ask that you take your role to keep our Island students and education staff and their families safe seriously by keeping our schools safe. 

We ask that you err on the side of caution and keep masking in place in Island schools (included when seated), as per the current policy in Newfoundland, a province PEI has aligned with on many COVID-19 safety protocols and policies. Nova Scotia also currently requires masking in schools, and this is to be reevaluated on May 20, two weeks after changes are scheduled on PEI. Keeping mandatory masking in schools would be consistent with what’s happening in two of our neighbouring Atlantic provinces. This guidance allows for those students who cannot tolerate masks due to medical conditions or who have significant communication impediments to not wear masks, while also protecting those who are able to wear them.

Both Holland College and UPEI have extended their mask mandate policy to the end of June. We ask that you give our Island children the same consideration, ensuring that their learning environment is as safe as possible. 

We, the undersigned, request universal indoor masking in schools for the remainder of the school year. 

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Signatures: 100Next Goal: 200
Support now