This morning I walked my first grader to school and watched as they took off their toque at the door, slipped the loops of their mask over their little ears, and disappeared into the school.
But starting Monday, kids in Alberta won’t have to wear masks in schools, not even the flimsy, paper-thin ones recently provided by the province. I never expected this disappointing government to pony up N95s for our kids, but I also didn’t expect it to just discontinue COVID precautions at a time when paediatric hospitalizations continue to climb.
In the span of 30 days, the Alberta government went from promising free masks for school children to telling kids that masks are unnecessary. During that same time period, paediatric hospitalizations increased.
While my six-year-old was getting their second vaccination, adults were throwing a tantrum at the Coutts border crossing. While my six-year-old was missing out on birthday parties, extremists were partying in Ottawa. While my six-year-old was reading in their classroom (which I have never been allowed to visit, due to COVID), protesters entered another school, yelling about masks and freedom until RCMP officers removed them.
As tensions rose, Alberta’s education minister, Adriana LaGrange, came out of hiding long enough to tweet that “schools are not an appropriate place to protest public health measures,” but within days of that tweet, protesters got what they wanted. The education minister barred school divisions from enforcing their own mask mandates.
Even as paediatric hospitalizations continue to climb in Alberta, even as our emergency departments are stretched far beyond capacity, Alberta’s government is giving in to people because they are loud and scary.
This terrifies me. What will these groups, this melting pot of white supremacists, anti-vaxxers, QAnon believers and so-called “working-class Canadians” demand next?
As a parent, I know that giving in to tantrums or threats teaches children that hurting others is a great way to get what they want. On the surface, it seems like the United Conservative government doesn’t understand that rewarding bad behaviour will only encourage more bad behaviour, but I think they do know that and some of them would love to see more disruptive demands for power.
Jason Kenney has lost control of his caucus. He’s sat by while some of his MLAs have flaunted health measures and supported protests aligned with alt-right, white supremacist ideologies, protests that we know would not be tolerated if the faces behind the steering wheels weren’t white.
The groups protesting at schools, at Coutts and in Ottawa don’t just want COVID safety stopped. They want control. And they’re getting it.
Removing the masks may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to caving to extremists, and that scares me the most—more than COVID, even, if I’m being honest.
I actually think the chances of my child contracting COVID are low. At six years old, my kiddo has a pretty good immune system and is old enough to be double vaccinated. Most of their closest friends are also double vaccinated. I can’t know how many of their classmates are, though, and that keeps me up at night.
So does worrying about my nephew (who is still too young to be vaccinated), our older, immunocompromised loved ones, and those with disabilities. What if my child goes to school unmasked, and comes home with COVID? What if we give it to someone and they die? We’ve only recently started seeing people and doing things again, and now we have to choose between school and our loved ones—again.
My child has given up so much over the course of this pandemic. They’ve started doing this thing where they refer to pre-pandemic life as “my childhood.”
They’ll point out the car window and say, "that’s the building where I played soccer in my childhood!" or (the more heartbreaking) “Mom, I miss my childhood.”
"Yes, but you're six,” I tell them. “You're still experiencing your childhood," I say before my eyes well up too much to keep looking in the rearview mirror.
We gave up so much when others wouldn’t. I’m terrified that they’re going to take school from us, too.
In Premier Kenney’s own words, “now is the time to begin learning to live with COVID.” But the thing is, we were already learning to live with it, finally, because we were able to protect ourselves through things like mask mandates and the proof-of-vaccine program that ended this week.
Because of that program, I recently started taking my child back to the indoor swimming pool for the first time in years, comforted by the knowledge that adults in the pool had either presented proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test at the door. Can we risk swimming, now that it's a free-for-all? How do I tell my child that their freedom, their safety, their chance to resume childhood, was taken away because some grownups honked their horns a lot?
Do I send my child to school on Monday? I don’t know. I just know that I’m scared.