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Mask Mandate While Waiting for Children Age 5 to 11 to Get Vaccinated

TORONTO – Last week, I passed the play yard of an elementary school and saw children, presumably aged five and six, enjoying the pleasant morning’s tail of summer weather, running and playing games they concocted or just enjoying each other’s company. It felt good seeing kids back to school for in-person learning. But, I must admit, it also felt bad to see them all masked up. 

They didn’t seem to care wearing masks, which makes me wonder that if children don’t seem bothered wearing masks, why, then, do some adults make a big fuss over it. I broached this issue to a friend and this was her reply: children have little care in the world unlike adults who have worries and now, anxieties over this pandemic. They take their cues from adults they live with and, if the adults mask up when they step out the door, they do too.

During his campaign, PM Trudeau was dogged by unmasked protestors for his pandemic response. One even resorted to physicality, throwing gravel at him. The perpetrator was charged with assault. In Toronto, early this month, I once encountered along University Avenue an angry group of protesters holding up makeshift placards with Trudeau’s name on it. The words, I wouldn’t care to repeat. They were maskless. Here’s my problem with unmasked people who join protests, rallies, or large gatherings without physical distancing. The virus is still here and Delta variant, so far, is the deadliest. Physical distancing is impossible in events like these, so mask up.

I’m a fully vaccinated senior who wears a mask and a face shield every time I step out of my dwelling. When in a park, I remove my face shield, sometimes my mask, but oftentimes I keep then on when young families are around. Why do I do this. For the simple reason that children aged 5 to 11 have not been vaccinated yet and are vulnerable to this virus. Health Canada is still in the process of approving their vaccine, which may happen this fall or winter. In the US, test results have come out for the age group 5 to 11, in a report filed by CNN Health on September 20th, 2021, and they showed a “robust” response to the Pfizer vaccine. Hopefully, by Halloween, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administrator, says that the vaccine could be available for children aged 5 to 11. 

This summer, places like NYC, Milwaukee, Dayton Ohio, Michigan hosted a “mask burning party”. Here in Ontario, even if no masks were burned, with more than 200 people gathered at the South Branch Bistro at Kemptville Ontario for the mask burning party hosted by a Member of Provincial Parliament, the establishment was charged by OPP under the Reopening Ontario Act, as reported by Alexandra Mazur in her Global News article dated May 11, 2021. I understand the jubilation and freedom felt by people who have been vaccinated for who wants to wear masks in the first place but this was before the lethal variant Delta came into being.

Now, there’s a return of the mask mandates, especially with schools reopening and workers/employees returning to the workplace. Eric Stober of Global News, in his article “Return of mask mandates the right move amid Covid-19 4th wave: experts”, reports that experts are in agreement to bring back mask mandates because of rising Covid numbers and a return of school this September. Which brings me back to what I witnessed in the elementary school play yard early this week ie children playing in an open concrete space, all masked up. I can only assume that their teachers, the school personnel, and children old enough to get vaccinated are vaccinated and are following Covid safety protocols. 

In Ontario, 12.9 % of children have been infected as of June 30th, 2021, according to Public Health Ontario.  In the US, Covid cases among children have risen by about 240% since July, with school reopenings being looked at as the culprit, as reported by CNN’s AJ Willingham on September 15, 2021. Schools in Ontario just reopened this September so it remains to be seen if this will directly affect an uptick in cases among children.

Early this month, I woke up to an appalling news of 99 children being infected at the Gentlehands Orphanage in Quezon City, Philippines. The mayor  said that the outbreak was preventable, had Covid safety protocols been implemented. An asymptomatic person had visited the orphanage and yes, it takes only one contact with an infected person to result in an outbreak. At the time of this outbreak, my old country which has a population of 111 million was dealing with 2.1 million Covid cases and 34,672 deaths, as reported by Gulf News on September 9th, 2021. 

I get sad when children are sick. As a child, I relished the time I spent in school with my mates. My parents were forever worried that I’d catch some virus or bacteria when I was growing up. Thankfully, I didn’t contract polio, typhoid, tuberculosis, even cholera. Chicken pox, yes; but not smallpox because it had been eradicated already by the time I was born.

This Covid 19 is so lethal that a pandemic was declared by WHO. While I have received my two doses of Pfizer, I am concerned for any unvaccinated child that I follow Covid safety protocols when I’m around them. And because Toronto is full of young families, I continue to wear my mask out of thoughtfulness and consideration to the parents or caregiver who I know will be beside themselves if their child gets infected. 

On a positive note, on the morning of September 20th, 2021, CP 24, the 24-hour news station in Toronto, reported that Ontario is already 85% first dose vaccinated and 79 % fully vaccinated. There were rumblings of aiming for 90% fully vaccinated. Yes! When the children aged 5 to 11 start getting vaccinated, then I’ll start exhaling.

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