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Algoma health, school officials prepare for dropping mask mandates

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It's been two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. And with mask mandates set to come down in Ontario on March 21 – the Monday following March Break – Algoma Public Health and the Algoma District School Board are preparing for the change.

Dr. John Tuinema, Algoma's acting medical officer of health in February after Dr. Jenifer Loo went on maternity leave, said we are in a much different spot today regarding COVID-19 than we were at the start of the pandemic.

"We were confronted with a virus that we knew very little about," he said. "We did not have a vaccine for it. We weren't sure which measures were going to work in order to control spread. And we needed to quickly develop strategies and learn a lot in a very short period of time."

While mask mandates are being eliminated, Tuinema acknowledges some people might not be ready for that.

"There's a lot of considerations and that can be a difficult choice," he said. "That said, it's important to remember masking isn't the only protection we have. There's still a number of things people can do to help keep themselves safe. Chiefly among them, vaccination."

Meantime, the Algoma District School Board is asking students to consider wearing a mask beyond March 21.

"We will have people very excited to not have masks at school, we'll have some who are not as happy," said Lucia Reece, the school board's superintendent of education. "(We are) really wanting to promote the notion of choice. And given that we're aware that lots of people will be travelling over March Break, that we would just encourage people to continue (wearing a mask) for two weeks after."

Reece hopes people will respect each other's choices about masks.

"Part of our messaging to families is reminding everyone to be kind so that students and staff know that there's choice and that everyone feels comfortable coming to our schools and our facilities," she said.

The board will be polling parents on whether they would like to see a continuation of the hybrid-learning model and allowing students to study from home if they choose to do that, Reece added.

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