For the past two years, Dr. Sarah Gander has fielded a lot of requests from parents wanting mask exemptions for their children.

Lately, she’s been getting requests for quite the opposite: letters seeking mandated mask-wearing around their children.

The Saint John pediatrician says the turnaround illustrates the difficulty some parents are having adjusting to the end of mandatory masks at provincial schools.

“I think a lot of people felt that it was quick, knowing that March break had just finished, and here we are going into potentially another wave, Gander told Information Morning Saint John.

“And we hadn’t quite seen what other provinces had played out as they lifted their mask mandate,” she said.

Until a week ago, masks had been mandatory in most school settings since students returned to classes in the fall of 2020. But as of March 14, the province removed all pandemic restrictions, including mandatory masking at schools.

Gander said a lot of parents she talks to wish the province had held off on removing the mask mandate for schools, at least until more data is in about how the removal of other restrictions affects case numbers.

The lack of mask mandates at schools has some parents concerned, especially if their kids are immunocompromised. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)

“We want our kids in school,” said Gander. “They’ve missed a lot of school … it’s just, you know, should we have waited to let some of this play out and sort of stabilized before we went full no masks?”

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said Public Health is “striving to create a culture of acceptance and normalcy for those who continue to wear a mask and for those who choose not to wear a mask.”

“Public Health continues to encourage mask use based on personal risk assessment and choice,” Macfarlane said.

“Schools will continue to maintain a supportive environment for everyone, including students and staff who wish to continue wearing a mask.”

Compromised immune systems

Gander said this has had a negative impact on some parents and students, especially those who have compromised immune systems.

She said she’s heard from parents asking why masks aren’t being treated the same as food allergies.

Generally, if a child in a class has a peanut allergy, no one in the class can bring peanut products to school. Gander said parents are asking why that logic doesn’t extend to masks and kids with compromised immune systems.

Information Morning – Saint John16:54Dr. Sarah Gander on the latest phase of the pandemic

Saint John pediatrician, Dr. Sarah Gander, has some advice for parents about navigating this latest phase of the pandemic She says it’s a challenging time for parents because with the mask mandate gone, there are fewer things you can control to protect your kids from COVID. 16:54

She says she’s been asked to write notes asking students to wear masks because of a classmate’s compromised immune system, but she’s hesitant to do that.

“How could you possibly ask everyone to wear a mask around one child?” she said.

“It’s very difficult to make that recommendation. So really, what we’ve done is just aim to have letters that educate the staff about the medical condition of that child and where there might be a consideration in the best interest of the child.”

Silver lining?

While Gander admits there are plenty of parents who are wary about the end of the mask mandate, there are some positives behind the move.

Gander said a lot of teachers have told her about concerns they have with children wearing masks all day.

There’s also some developmental concern when it comes to masks and language skills of young children.

“I think teachers in particular, are excited to have the children see their lips, see their facial expressions, hear the intonation and the alliteration,” said Gander.

For tweens and teens, socialization may have been made more difficult with the masks.

“I think teenagers are very excited to see the faces of their peers, that they may not have even seen really that much, during a really important developmental time for socialization and making friends and relationships,” said Gander.

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