Dr. Mark Joffe, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health and Dr. Laura McDougall, a Senior Medical Officer of Health Alberta Health Services penned a letter addressed to parents and guardians in the province last week, encouraging mask use, especially in crowded indoor settings.

The letter dated November 23, stated that in the past several weeks, there has been a large rise in cough and fever-type sickness in schools.

"We are concerned that this influenza season will be more severe than we have seen in years, and that illness will continue to disrupt school, sports and upcoming holiday gatherings," the letter read. "Using a well-fitting, high quality mask is encouraged, especially in crowded indoor settings. Wearing a mask can help reduce your risk of becoming sick and help protect others from being exposed."

Joffe underlined in the letter, however, that Individuals should be supported regardless of their choice to mask or not. While the letter also stressed that while most children who get influenza will recover without complications, some children can get very sick and need treatment in the hospital and that parents should have their children immunized against the flu.

"The influenza vaccine being used this season provides protection against the H3N2 virus. Influenza vaccines are safe, and effective and offer the best defence from a serious illness. In Alberta, the annual influenza vaccine is provided free of charge, and it is recommended for all children 6 months and older."

A day after the letter was sent out, the provincial government announced that it was effectively banning mandatory masking in schools and that schools would not be allowed to shift to online learning. 

"These changes also clarify that children and students cannot be denied in-person education by their school authority due to their personal decision to wear or not wear a mask. School authorities must also continue to offer courses and preserve the integrity of educational programming, whether in person or at home," a press release stated. "By including these clear expectations in binding regulation, school authorities will be better able to manage their staff resources."

Premier Danielle Smith said that the changes were made to enhance and protect educational choice.

"Parents and students have told me time and time again that they want a normal school environment for their kids. Families are free to make their own personal health decisions, and, no matter what that decision is, it will be supported by Alberta’s education system.”

However, the province also underlined that the Public Health Act would provide overarching direction on all public health matters and would continue to prevail over the Education Act and associated regulations in a future public health emergency.

As of November 29, there are 3,648 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in the province. 12 Albertans have died of the flu this year, with two of those deaths being recorded in children under the age of 10.

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