Masks mandatory for high school students, organized sports prohibited in Quebec’s red zones

High school students in Quebec’s red zones will be required to wear masks in the classroom, organized sports will be prohibited and gyms closed under new restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus.

The new rules, announced today, go into effect Oct. 8 until at least Oct. 28.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said students in Grade 10 and 11 will pivot to a hybrid form of schooling, where they will be physically in school only one out of every two days to reduce class sizes.

Roberge said all intramural sports, competitions between schools and school outings would be prohibited in red zones.

Gym classes and in-school sports will be allowed on the condition that all students remain within the same groups as they do for their classes. 

Roberge said the new restrictions were an attempt to limit exposure to two bubbles: the classroom and home. 

“All the actions we are taking could and should prevent us from closing schools,” he said.

Elementary students will still not have to wear masks in the classroom, but Grade 4-6 students have had to wear them when walking in indoor shared spaces, such as hallways, and while on the school bus. That situation remains unchanged.

As of Thursday, all in-person courses in CEGEPs and universities are also suspended in red zones under the new restrictions.

Many higher-learning institutions had already decided to move their semesters online, but certain activities, such as labs, had been permitted. With the new regulations, all activities will be suspended. 

The new prohibitions on sports and gyms extend, as well, to organized recreational activities such as yoga and aerobics.

Isabelle Charest, the province’s minister responsible for sports and a former Olympian, said she was disappointed to make the announcement but they were necessary given the rise in cases.

“I know how important sport is to school success, for mental health, for motivation and, of course, for physical fitness,” Charest, a former short-track speedskater, said. “I know how important sports are, but this ordeal we are going through, it requires sacrifice on all our parts.”

On Monday, the province recorded 1,191 new cases — the fourth day in a row that Quebec’s total exceeded 1,000.

The greater Montreal area, as well as the Quebec City and the Chaudière-Appalaches regions, were designated as red zones under the province’s COVID-19 alert system last week. As of midnight Monday, three towns in the Gaspé region will join them.

On Monday, Jacques-Rousseau High School became the latest to shut down for two weeks Monday, following a COVID-19 outbreak among its staff and students. 

Eighteen students across 13 different classes and three staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, health officials told reporters. 

Last week, Gerard-Filion High School closed for two weeks after an outbreak involving at least 26 students and seven staff members.

As of Oct. 2, there were 1,423 active cases in Quebec schools across the province’s network of 3,089 public and private schools.

Later today, the province is also expected to annnounce details about adopting the federal app, COVID Alert, which informs users when they have had prolonged contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Premier François Legault has called a news conference for 5 p.m.

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