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Quebec will not require elementary and high school students to wear masks in class when school resumes after the province’s spring break.

The lifting of the mask requirement is the result of Quebec’s improving epidemiological situation, the province’s health and education ministers said in a statement Tuesday.

Students will still be required to wear masks in common areas of their schools and on school buses when classes resume March 7.

Health Minister Christian Dube said the change is part of the province’s ongoing reopening plan.

“The situation is improving, and this is also reflected in the school environment,” Dube said in a news release.

Dr. Olivier Drouin, a pediatrician at the Sainte-Justine children’s hospital in Montreal, said he is cautiously optimistic about the lifting of the mask requirement.

“It’s good news if it’s evidence-based and the evidence is pointing towards an improvement in situation,” Drouin said in an interview Tuesday.

However, Drouin said he worries Quebec’s reopening plan may be moving too fast and the province will be forced to bring back measures that have been lifted.

Drouin said he’s also concerned that limited access to PCR testing has left Quebec without a sense of how widespread COVID-19 transmission is in the province. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has become one of Quebec’s chief ways of tracking the pandemic, but people tend not to be hospitalized until a week or two after infection.

“It does look like it’s better, but whether it is going to stay that way is not clear,” he said.

Drouin said masks do prevent transmission among children and between children and teachers and that while there are other factors involved, such as ventilation, there will be an increase in COVID-19 transmission in schools when the requirement is lifted.

While children are less likely to develop severe cases of COVID-19, Drouin said there are risks.

“There are kids that need to be hospitalized. There are kids that need to go to the ICU. And even if it’s a small portion, we’d like to keep that number as low as we can,” he said.

An infected child can also bring the disease home to family members, and parents are still required to keep their child home for five days if they have a possible COVID-19 infection, which can be difficult, Drouin said.

Earlier Tuesday, Quebec reported 30 additional deaths linked to COVID-19 and 34 fewer pandemic-related hospitalizations.

The Health Department said 1,742 people are in hospital with COVID-19, after 101 people were admitted and 135 were discharged in the previous 24 hours. It said 107 people are in intensive care, a decline of 12 from the day before.

Officials say 1,438 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed by PCR testing Monday, with 7.9 per cent of tests analyzed coming back positive. However, PCR testing in Quebec is limited to certain high-risk groups.

Health authorities say 15,030 doses of vaccine were administered in the previous 24 hours, including 10,437 third doses.

The Health Department says 91 per cent of Quebec residents five and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, 86 per cent have had a second dose and 50 per cent have received three.

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